For the third consecutive year, NASA and NOAA have announced record high temperatures. It’s upsetting yet unsurprising, given the dearth of fucks we seem to give about the state of our planet. As Gizmodo previously reported, temperatures were 0.07 degrees F (0.04 degrees C) higher last year than they were in 2015—but the real reason this matters isn’t because the planet’s thermostat suddenly spiked. The overarching, disturbing trend is indisputable.
Moreover, that trend shows no signs of stopping, because neither do we. Though overwhelming evidence points to human activity as a critical cause of global climate change—after all, we’re the ones burning fossil fuels and releasing all of that heat-trapping carbon into the atmosphere—some people in power think it’s all a hoax. Created by the Chinese. Because reasons.
While it’s natural to get wrapped up in the immediate shock of seeing another record-breaking year, Gavin Schmidt, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, thinks there’s something critical about 2016 that’s being largely overlooked in a world obsessed with the present.
“I’m not sure how important it is that one year is hottest, or that we’ve had three in a row,” Schmidt told Gizmodo. “These things are unusual, of course. But the real important thing that will give us the most information for the future are the long term trends.”
To understand where we are—and more importantly, where we’re headed—Schmidt said we should be focusing on data that shows how much the Earth has warmed since the Industrial Revolution. According to NASA, the global temperature has increased 1.7 degrees F since 1880. Over that same time frame, carbon dioxide levels have dramatically increased, from roughly 280 to 405.25 parts per million—the highest they’ve been in 650,000 years.
It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to know where we’re headed. The hard data collected by satellites and ocean buoys—coupled with paleoclimate data that tells us about Earth’s warming trends over millions of years—informs us that what we’re seeing now isn’t natural. The fact that 9 of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000 should be a big hint, too.
“If you don’t want to look at things that are kind of ephemeral, you have to be focusing on the long-term trends, and the long-term trends are very clear,” Schmidt said. “We’ve warmed over a degree Celsius, or like, two degrees Fahrenheit since the 19th century. And we’re already seeing the impacts of that.”