Flooding in the UK: Carlisle Civic Centre, Dec. 2015, by Rose and Trev Clough. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

Welcome to 2016

Weather Extremes Are Increasing

Justin Gillis summed up the climate at the end of 2015 as follows:

With tornado outbreaks…, drought in parts of Africa and historic floods…, 2015 is closing with a string of weather anomalies all over the world.
The year… may be over at midnight Thursday, but the trouble will not be. … California may lurch from drought to flood by late winter. Most serious, millions of people could be threatened by a developing food shortage in southern Africa. …
It is already clear… that the year will be the hottest ever recorded at the surface of the planet, surpassing 2014 by a considerable margin. …
“The warmth means there is more fuel for these weather systems to feed upon,” Dr. Trenberth [a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research] said. “This is the sort of thing we will see more as we go decades into the future.”
- Justin Gillis, Climate Chaos, Across the Map, NYT, Dec. 30, 2015

Diseases Are Spreading

Meanwhile, Simon Romero reported from Brazil on an alarming epidemic of malformed infants, apparently caused by an out-of-control virus:

A little-known virus spread by mosquitoes is causing one of the most alarming health crises to hit Brazil in decades, officials here warn: thousands of cases of brain damage, in which babies are born with unusually small heads. …
The alarm stems from a huge surge in babies with microcephaly… a rare, incurable condition in which their heads are abnormally small. …
Brazilian researchers say that Zika, an obscure mosquito-borne virus that made its way to the country only recently, is to blame for the sudden increase in brain damage among infants. …
The Zika virus has already reached several countries in Latin America, including Mexico, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that it could spread in parts of the United States as well. There have already been cases diagnosed in the United States…. …
Researchers… say Zika’s spread to Brazil reflects how easily viruses are jumping from one part of the planet to another.
They are particularly worried that the disease is wreaking havoc in a region where the population has not encountered it before and that climate change may be allowing viruses like Zika to thrive in new domains. …
Before Zika’s arrival, Brazil was already grappling with a much deadlier epidemic of dengue, another virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. Brazil had nearly 1.6 million cases of dengue in 2015…. At least 839 people have died from dengue in Brazil this year, an 80 percent increase from the previous year. …
Some researchers emphasize the role that climate change may play in Zika’s spread.
- Simon Romero, Alarm Spreads in Brazil Over a Virus and a Surge in Malformed Infants, NYT, Dec 20, 2015

Donald McNeil reports that the spread of Zika exemplifies a general trend:

Tropical diseases — some of them never before seen in the United States — are marching northward as climate change lets mosquitoes and ticks expand their ranges.
- Donald McNeil, U.S. Becomes More Vulnerable to Tropical Diseases Like Zika, NYT, Jan. 4, 2016

Our Response

People paying attention to climate change may be encouraged by the recent Paris Climate Accord. Though it lacks any enforcement mechanism, if fully implemented it will cut greenhouse gas emissions about half as much as needed to avoid a temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius. According to researchers at Climate Central, if the increase is somehow limited to 2 degrees Celsius, only 137 million people will be forced to migrate due to rising sea level submerging the land on which they live.

Or they may be discouraged to see so little progress in the decades since the problem of climate change became apparent, noting that energy conglomerates are spending hundreds of billions of dollars annually to find new fossil fuel reserves that can never be burned if the target is to be met.

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