Mauna Loa reports CO2 concentrations of 404 ppm for February 20, 2015. On the same date in 2015 concentrations were 399 ppm.
Arctic sea ice covered 14,179 million square kilometers as of yesterday. In 1980 it covered 16,182 million square kilometers on the same day of the year.
The January 2016 globally-averaged temperature across land and ocean surfaces was 1.04°C (1.87°F) above the 20th century average of 12.0°C (53.6°F), the highest for January in the 137-year period of record.
Sea level rose by 3.39 mm last year, plus or minus 0.6 mm. Sea levels have risen 72 mm since 1993.
(I can’t believe there isn’t a dashboard somewhere capturing all of these on the same screen. Get to work on it, people!)
These are the measurements that have scientists intensely interested and activists alarmed. CO2 concentrations rising, Arctic sea ice falling, temperatures and sea levels reaching new heights in our short history of keeping good records.
Although I’m not alarmed by these numbers, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be pleased if they were all moving in the other direction. I wish they were.
But these measurements are not scaring the public. Most people in the developed world (40% of the world’s population have never heard of climate change) understand and accept that the climate is changing and we have contributed. But because it isn’t affecting their lives or livelihoods, most just don’t care.
At the same time as the measurements above are being reported, we also see that our planet’s vegetative cover has risen by 11%, harvests are rising, malaria is falling and economic growth has not been impacted. Those make more of a difference to most of us.
So what metrics are important in the climate conversation? Well, why would anyone besides a scientist care if the Arctic ice was decreasing or the proportion of molecules of CO2 in our atmosphere was increasing? What possible difference could it make to their lives or how they lived them?
Eventually someone realised this and activists tried to substitute metaphors and poster children for metrics when they encountered difficulties implementing their policy agenda. But polar bears stubbornly refused to die and islands stubbornly refused to sink. Malaria didn’t spread and bees didn’t disappear.
Since the failure of that messaging campaign, the activists on climate change have been floundering, forced to relentlessly hammer home the ‘overwhelming consensus’ message, a message that crumbles into dust if examined closely. And even that doesn’t seem to sway the public. In a world where Barack Obama can be called a denier by Bill McKibben and James Hansen is called a denier by Naomi Oreskes, it is clear that climate communications is in need of a reboot.
I would, if advising these yammerheads, counsel small metrics. Go local. Tailor the story to fit the locale. Of course, the same yammerheads call me a denier, so there’s scant chance of them taking me up on it. Pity, that.
To me, it would be smart to talk about the number of ice free days in lakes in the Northern Hemisphere. It would be smart to talk about earlier springs and shorter winters. It would be smart to talk about degrees of latitude in changes of the habitats of plants and animals.
Of course, each of these phenomena have had changes recorded in the past that might equal those they are undergoing now. But they are things that can be measured fairly easily, fairly quickly and… um… fairly.
As for Arctic sea ice, although I wish it were growing in extent rather than decreasing, as someone recently sang, ‘the cold never bothered me anyway.’