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A Record Year in the Making

Not long after July became the hottest month on record, August 2016 “tied July for the distinction of being the hottest month since record-keeping began in 1880.” And in the process, August became the sixteenth month in a row that tied or exceeded the record high monthly temperature, according to NOAA: “August 2016 was 1.66 degrees F above the 20th-century average, breaking last years’ record for the warmest August on record by 0.09 degrees F, according to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.”

Unfortunately, in addition to setting consecutive monthly high-temperature records, the planet gets closer each month to setting a new annual high-temperature record, as well. In fact, as reported by Scientific American, there is a “99 Percent Chance 2016 Will Be the Hottest Year on Record.” Hotter even than 2015, the last year to become the hottest year on record.

The primary reason for this seemingly unending streak of monthly/annual high temperature records around the globe? The increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As explained by CNN’s Jareen Imam,

As the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide rises, so does the temperature. Carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million in May at the South Pole — the last place on the planet to hit the milestone, NOAA said.

Hundreds of millions of years of geologic history clearly point to a direct relationship between increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and increasing global temperatures. Past climate change has faithfully followed the ups and downs of carbon dioxide levels. When carbon dioxide levels decrease over time, temperatures cool and ice ages have often ensued; when CO2 levels increase over time, temperatures increase in response, bringing other ramifications of climate changes to the planet, as well.

Although climate change has occurred many times in the past, it has, with rare exception, always occurred over long periods of time. Hundreds of thousands of years, at the very least. Not even during times of enormously powerful volcanic eruptions or catastrophic meteor strikes have carbon dioxide levels increased as precipitously as they have over the last hundred years.

What changed? Shortly after the advent of the Industrial Age, we began releasing prodigious amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (such as methane) into the atmosphere. At first, few believed any serious consequences would result from their release. But, by the middle of the last century, more and more scientific research—including some undertaken by the fossil fuel industry—began to explore the relationship among mankind’s release of carbon dioxide, its accumulation in the earth’s atmosphere, and a steady increase of worldwide temperatures.

Within the last two decades, as increasing amounts of scientific evidence accumulated, more than 97% of the climate scientists worldwide became convinced that the increased levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere were the direct result of the burning of fossils fuels and that if mankind did not take immediate steps to curtail its use of fossil fuels, potentially disastrous consequences would result: not only rising temperatures worldwide but also increasing incidents of extreme weather, drought, water shortages, melting polar ice, higher sea levels, the contamination of fresh-water aquifers by salt water, ocean acidification, desertification, and mass extinction for the many species unable to cope with unusually rapid changes in the earth’s climate.

The research did not convince everyone, and some—particularly those with a financial interest in the continued use of petroleum products, including the fossil fuel industry (at least publicly), the Republican party (almost unanimously), Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin—have steadfastly denied mankind’s responsibility for the meteoric increase in carbon dioxide levels over the last hundred years and its direct outcome: worldwide climate change.

And now, as if to underscore their stubborn refusal to accept the mountain of evidence that science has accumulated over the last fifty or more years, Congress seems determined to increase the rate at which we barrel towards the worst consequences of climate change. Congress recently declared trees a carbon-neutral energy source and is encouraging their use as an alternative fuel. In other words, they want to increase the rate at which we cut trees down and burn them.

Why is this a monumentally bad idea? As most school children know, trees convert carbon dioxide into oxygen as part of the natural phenomenon of photosynthesis. In fact, life on this planet exists largely as a result of the oxygen that trees and other fauna have released into the atmosphere, an ongoing process that began billions of years before the dinosaurs (let alone mankind) existed. What’s more, forests have been one of the only agents—the world’s oceans being the other—mitigating the consequences of the continued burning of fossil fuels. By drawing carbon dioxide out of the air and releasing oxygen into the environment, trees have afforded us breathing room in the battle to delay the worst consequences of climate change.

But that slight advantage will turn into a huge detriment if we begin to burn trees down with increased vigor. Not only will we lose one of the few tools we have to reduce the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, but we’ll also increase the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere every year. As Eduardo Porter, writing for the New York Times, points out, should Congress succeed in its plan to turn our forests into a fuel source, “from next year to 2030 they will have added a cumulative total of at least 620 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air.”

But Congress has a neat trick up its sleeve to overcome that little problem: since its legislation has established trees to be a carbon-neutral energy source, we just won’t count the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere when they’re burned. That’s right, we’ll all simply pretend that the carbon dioxide isn’t there.

Unfortunately, few people in the U.S. will be able to ignore the new record temperatures (or the other ramifications of climate change) that will almost certainly occur. While Congress and other climate change deniers fiddle with the truth, the planet burns.

You’ll find more information about increasing global temperatures and climate change in the following sources:

• A Milestone for Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere
Short Answers to Hard Questions about Climate Change
Next ‘Renewable Energy’: Burning Forests, if Senators Get Their Way
The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here
2016 on Pace to be the Hottest Year on Record
Graphic: The Relentless Rise of Carbon Dioxide
99 Percent Chance 2016 Will Be the Hottest Year on Record
10 Warmest Years on Record Globally
Hottest Year Ever? 2016 Burns Through Heat Records, NASA Says
‘99 Percent Chance’ 2016 Will Be Hottest Year
2016 Set to Be World’s Hottest Year on Record, Says UN
July 2016 Was the Hottest Month on Record
How Hot Was It in July? Hotter Than Ever.
August Ties July for Hottest Month on Record
NASA Analysis Finds August 2016 Another Record Month
August Marks Ongoing Trend of Record-breaking Heat for the Globe