2016 seemed to be the culmination of a large amount of climate change events and factors which had been silently brewing in the background, now coming to light. Between the natural disasters and climate change action (or lack thereof) it was a noteworthy year.
It seemed as though every time each side of the climate change world made a point, the other would come back to tie the game. We’ve made some steps forward and steps back in saving the planet.
There was enough climate news this year to write a book, but here are a few highlights!
The Ocean’s Health:
The ocean has long been one of the worst hit victims of humanity and climate change. Increasing ocean temperatures are an ever growing problem leading to the destruction of ecosystems.
2016 saw the ‘death’ of parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Coral bleaching has become apparent on almost every reef in the world due to rising temperatures and increasing ocean acidity. This causes the coral to go into a state of distress.
Australia is doing what they believe is the best way to protect the reef while preserving tourism and industry.
The amount of waste in oceans continues to increase. This plastic, metal and other waste kills animals and environments. According to EcoWatch 12.2 Million tonnes of waste end up in the ocean each year. The majority, 9 million tonnes, is from coastal areas.
A lot of the waste ends up on beaches, 2000kg/ km2 or 5%. The majority ends up on the bottom of the ocean (94%).
Beaches can also be a huge contributor to waste. Coogee Beach for example in Australia was completely trashed with bottles, cans, plastic cups, straws and blankets on Christmas. This lead to worldwide backlash.
Even on non celebratory days, people are forgetful and unmindful when it comes to discarding their trash and recycling whilst laying on the beach. Any beach can be combed through randomly and you can find handfuls of straws.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the entire ocean. Hawaii established some of the biggest protected marine parks in the world. In total they are bigger than the size of Texas!
El Nino Southern Oscillation and the Teleconnections:
The 2014-2016 El Nino peaked in November 2015 and by September 2016 NASA had declared that sea temperatures had returned to a normal (albeit warmer that decades past) temperatures. This El Nino was predicted to be more drastic that the 1997-1998 event which was extreme itself. Scientists were sceptical about the latest event reaching the mathematical prediction for strength which they deemed as “excessive”. It sadly reached what was forecasted.
El Nino is the negative phase of El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO for short and it occurs every 2-7 years. Thought to have occurred many times during history, this phase is known for warming sea temperatures in the central and eastern southern Pacific Ocean near the south American coast. Besides the warming in this specific area, El Nino causes teleconnections (influence) throughout the planet. So most places on the planet are subject to the effects of El Nino.
Climate change means the ENSO cycles are felt harder. Places that are unconditionally hot get hotter, wet get wetter and stormy get stormier.
The Arctic Ice:
A cyclone in December 2015 would change sea ice in the arctic for decades. It brought so much humidity and heat into the arctic that sea ice melted to an extraordinary extent.
The cyclone moved from the North Atlantic to the Arctic, via Norway and Western Europe. Temperatures soared and were 10 degrees warmer than the average.
Bringing this warm moist air into an otherwise cold and dry region meant that sea ice stood no chance, and there was 10 centimeters of thinning. Though on a small scale this doesn’t seem extreme, over hundreds of square kilometres there was massive sea ice loss. This is especially evident since it interrupted the growing phase of the ice where new ice builds to replenish what was depleted in the summer.
In addition, 2016 saw the 2nd lowest extent of arctic ice, tying with 2007 but better than 2012. The arctic has 4.14 million square kilometers of ice as of 2016.
The north pole shows harrowing effects of climate change. Everyone has seen the photos of the polar bears starving and floating on a tiny piece of ice, of the extensive melting of the arctic ice.
It is a vicious circle in the arctic because water temperatures are warmer and have an increased ability to heat and melt. Scientists are predicting that the Arctic may become ice free in the summer sooner than we’d think.
Fires Blazing- The Unfortunate 2016:
Going a bit south, in August 2015 in Canada, Alberta’s Government quietly declared a state of emergency due to drought conditions. This meant withered crops and struggling producers. It also meant that combined with the El Nino factors, the winter to follow would be dry and mild. Albertans celebrated the lack of extreme freezing temperatures and snow fall, unusual from their normal winter expectations of desolation. This winter however would have abysmal effects for farmers and everyone else. The dry climate paired with record high temperatures created the perfect storm for fires.
According to Natural Resources Canada “fire-prone conditions are expected to increase across Canada,” meaning that there is an increase chance of extreme wildfires due to climate change. Wildfires aren’t caused by climate change as a scientific standard, due to lack of evidence. Most wildfires are human caused or just part of the normal forest cycle. Drier and hotter conditions, however, make it easier for fires to burn which makes logical sense.
In early May 2016 in Fort McMurray, Alberta started to burn. Shortly after 80 000 people would be evacuated and eventually 600 000 hectares of land would burn. Though not blamed on climate change, the extent it burned might be.
The Palm Oil Fiasco:
When National Geographic’s documentary Before the Flood aired staring Leonardo DiCaprio it brought to light some climate change issues that skirt under the radar.
Many animals become the victim of human impact whether it is Rhinos or Elephants or Sea Turtles. Orangutans are becoming more and more endangered, and some have only recently become a figure of endangerment.
The biggest threat to Orangutans is deforestation which is human caused. Many countries have made MASS deforestation illegal or frowned upon, and some haven’t. Though some countries have such widespread corruption that creating environmental laws will not change anything. In Indonesia the Sumatran Orangutan is down to a population of 7500 which is considered critically endangered.
The reason these Orangutans are in such distress is the massive palm oil industry, a product that is in almost every packaged food as well as many cosmetics.. You’d be really hard pressed to find something that doesn’t contain palm oil or a by-product. Since this oil is in such high demand, companies in Indonesia will do anything they can to source it, no matter the ecological and environmental costs.
Unsound Political Future:
You can’t talk about 2016 without mentioning Trump. The next US president has made it abundantly clear that he will try to reverse any climate action that Obama signed including the Paris agreement.
The US is basically the world’s leader. With such a high population, a blatant disregard for the environment can have shocking implications towards increasing climate change. No matter if some countries continue making advancements towards a healthier planet, other countries might just follow behind the world’s powerhouse with continued consumption.
It is interesting to note that Trump blamed conspiracy theories and China for climate change. China then came out and said they did not create a hoax and climate change was real.
China, being one of the worlds top polluters (along with India), have aimed for record low carbon emissions and to hold global temperature change to under a 1.5-degree cap. This is even better than the agreed upon 2-degree change.
In November 2016, the US and China made a joint statement about climate change to “reaffirmed the importance of strengthening bilateral cooperation on climate change”. The presidents stood together and established the US-China Climate Change Working Group. This was a huge step for two high producers of greenhouse gases.
The Revolution of Renewable Resources:
As coal and fossil fuels slowly go out of style and renewable resources become more economical , it isn’t a fairy-tale to believe that the age of clean energy is closer than we think.
Some countries are already way ahead. Costa Rica, a beautiful country, is already running on 100% renewable energy. These types of countries need to be the gold standard.
Other countries, are making changes and plans to eliminate their emissions. Canada recently pledged to eliminate all coal power by 2030, which was an acceleration of the previous plan. In Canada coal makes up 11% of energy power but accounts for 70% of emissions. Eliminating it and replacing it with clean energy would mean leaps and bounds. Coal energy also pollutes the air with lead, mercury, nitrogen dioxide and cadmium. All things no one wants to breath. Canada hopes to be a leader in clean energy and stopping climate change.
Canada isn’t the only country doing this, it is actually one of many with the same plans like Finland, India and Australia. Worldwide coal is responsible for a third of carbon emissions!
Renewable energies are slowly becoming an actual viable option. No longer extremely expensive and unavailable they are becoming the way of the future.
Small localized efforts:
The biggest thing that will start to effect climate change and the environment is small localized efforts. Cutting back on palm oil products and not using plastic bags for example!
Most places are starting to implement carbon taxes and making small changes will also save money every month.
What to Take Away:
We’re going, but we’ve got so much further to go!
Change will happen eventually but not without a lot of effort and cutting back on consumption and thinking about what you personally buy, what energy you consume and how many light bulbs you leave running.