2015 saw extreme drought, floods and warming. Record December temperatures and an El Niño event make a cooler or calmer 2016 unlikely. Yet the most serious threat is scarcely being talked about...

Pacific sea surface heights showing El Niño. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In 2015 California experienced its worst drought in 500 years. In December there was major flooding from Great Britain to Missouri and Illinois. Iceland has also been battered. Indonesia saw less rain than usual, contributing to major forest fires.

Heavy Smoke Blankets Borneo. Credits: NASA image Jeff Schmaltz (LANCE MODIS Rapid Response) and Adam Voiland (NASA Earth Observatory).

The weather is not entirely to blame for the devastation however. Our actions, and failures to act, have made us more prone to floods. Growing the wrong crops have made us more vulnerable to drought, as has overgrazing. And of course, there are simply more of us, and the news spreads faster and more widely. Yet it seems that it takes a major flood before action is taken, as it was after the flood of Boscastle in the UK 11 years ago.

It's not just the UK that was unseasonably warm in December 2015. The Arctic was too. The weather is being linked to climate change as well as the usual El Niño cycle.

The UK Met office predicts that 2016 will be one of the warmest years on record, the third in a row. Depending on where you live, this may mean more droughts and forest fires, or more above average storms and flooding. NOAA is predicting that the southern United States will be cooler and wetter, while the northern United States will be warmer and dried in 2016. The 2016 El Niño is predicted to rival that of 1997-98

Even if where you live does not experience extreme weather, you could be affected by higher prices for food produced in areas which are. Food shortages are expected to peak in February in Africa, threatening millions with hunger.

So, 2016 will likely see a rise in temperatures, droughts and storms - more than enough for us to take global warming seriously, and for our insurers to jack up their prices. And yet, there is a potentially much more dangerous result of the warming temperatures that is rarely spoken about.

Image obtained using Climate Reanalyzer, Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, USA: generated from the NCEP Global Forecast System (GFS) model.

As Sam Carana points out over at Arctic News, not only is the Arctic unusually warm and likely to remain so for a while, but the Gulf Stream is also warmer and it is pushing warmer water up to the North Atlantic. It is unable to evaporate because melt water pouring off Greenland has formed a cold "freshwater lid" at the surface of the ocean. So it warms the water underneath the lid. If it warms the lower water in the Arctic Ocean enough, it could release the methane trapped in clathrate deposits at the bottom of the ocean. Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and if large amounts are released, it could considerably accelerate global warming, and then our troubles would really begin.

For more information see Sam Carana's article and the video Last Hours narrated by Leonard DiCaprio.

And if you make just one new year's resolution this year, please make it one to do your bit to fight global warming.

Further links...
DROUGHT: 2015 water year is hottest and driest on record by Janet Zimmerman.
Just How Hot Will 2016 Be? UK Met Office Forecasts Record-Breaking Global Temperatures by Kyla Mandel.
Storm Frank to bring more heavy rain to north and west UK by Caroline Davies
Properties need to be waterproofed against flooding, Environment Agency warns – audio by BBC Radio.
Met Office forecasts 2016 to be hottest year on record by Robert McSweeney.
North pole could be 35C warmer than average this week, warn meteorologists by David Batty.
Global warming rapidly melts massive Greenland glacier by Doyle Rice.
Freak storm pushes North Pole 50 degrees above normal to melting point by Angela Fritz.
Climate Chart of the Year? Record Heat, Of Course by Brian Kahn.
What’s been happening to our weather? by Met Office.
Climate Chaos, Across the Map by Justin Gillis.
Record-Breaking Rainfall And UK Floods Are A Result Of Climate Change, Say Scientists by Tom Chivers.
Will Britain See More Extreme Weather Incidents Like Storm Desmond? by VICE.


Instant-RunOff-... 7 years 4 weeks ago

@ SueN the correct method is Carbon Fee & Dividend which Hansen is a strong advocate for. That would actually benefit the poor especially and to a lesser extent the middle class. The rich, like Al Gore, would pay the most since they consume the most energy, commony well over 100X the energy consumption of a poor or lower middle class person. So rightly they would pay 100X in carbon fees but the dividends would be returned equally to all citizens.


Note that the super-rich, including Al Gore, favor the corrupt Cap & Trade failure which does just the opposite of Fee & Dividend, it directs income from the poor & middle class to the rich & super-rich who love gambling on the Carbon Markets. Which reward the polluters and give zip to the non-polluters.

Fossil fuel companies do indeed also get high subsidies, primarily military support - Oil & Pipeline Wars and the legislated freedom to dump their toxic waste into our air, land & water for us to breath, eat & drink with complete impunity. Why can't we citizens get to dump our garbage for free? I have to pay ~$50/month. Also they get 100% liability protection for the 7 million citizens they kill every year with their toxic, carcinogenic pollution.

Any savings from forcing Fossil Fuel companies and countries like the Terrorist State - Saudi Arabia to pay for their military protection & emissions - should go equally & fairly to all low carbon sources - not to just renewables - which usually translates to Wind & Solar, not the major renewables Hydro & Biomass. Another case of technologically illiterate, dumb-ass politicians who figure they should pick the winners & losers in the low carbon energy field.

SueN's picture
SueN 7 years 4 weeks ago

Instant-RunOff-Voting, I fully agree, but what sounds like the best and fairest solution is not always politically feasible, unfortunately. :( I usually leave the politics to Thom, since he is so good at it. :) I stick to the science, since I have an Environmental degree. I'm currently doing a refresher - an honours level course in renewables - so expect more articles on renewables coming your way.

In some countries all the best sites for traditional hydro (the large dam projects that politicians and investors are so fond of) have been used, plus we are more aware of the environmental consequences. But there is still plenty of scope for small scale hydro, tidal power which does not involve barrages, and the like. Biomass also has a lot of scope, and I am writing an assignment about it at the moment, so I'll probably be writing about it the next time a news story about it comes along.

Another factor, which is not impossible like the decriers say, but does need some very careful consideration (which we are fully capable of) is how to integrate all the new sources into a robust grid. Even this has non-technical aspects, such as the charges electricity companies make to people who generate their own electricity and have excess to sell.

Instant-RunOff-... 7 years 4 weeks ago

What is your opinion on the Flex-Fuel mandate which was recently brought up here?:


I actually wasn't aware of it until reading that post so I did some research - Zubrin, really smart guy that he is, does an excellent analysis, and now I have to agree that would be the fastest and easiest way to end our oil addiction, especially the imported Terrorist oil. Note wind & solar have negligible effect on oil consumption.

I don't embrace Zubrin's enthusiasm for agro-fuels however, but certainly agro-waste to methanol is cost effective, low carbon and very doable. And in the USA & Canada there is a huge stock of diseased, overgrown, too-high-density forest wood stocks that can be selectively harvested to prevent the disastrous forest fires we have been having, which not only release vast amounts of carbon & soot into the atmosphere but have a severe health impact. Most practical way to use that is directly convert to methanol in local, portable processing plants.

Makes a whole lot more sense than biomass --> electricity, which is what is being done now. Plants are terrible at capturing solar energy, typically only about 0.1% efficient vs solar at 12-20% efficient. What plants are good at is capturing CO2 out of the atmosphere - carbon that we need for carbon neutral liquid fuels. There is no substitute for carbon liquid fuels. Ammonia just isn't viable. So biomass --> liquid fuels should be the priority.

SueN's picture
SueN 7 years 4 weeks ago

UK flooding: How a town in Yorkshire worked with nature to stay dry http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/uk-flooding-how-a-yorkshire-flood-blackspot-worked-with-nature-to-stay-dry-a6794286.html

Air Vet's picture
Air Vet 7 years 4 weeks ago

More people would back the action we need on climate change if they knew that the poor and middle class won't suffer a massive hit. Given that we have the best congress money can buy, many people believe if we do take serious climate action on climate it will hit them hard. Many fear losing their jobs or being taxed so much they can't afford to take the family to visit grandma anymore. The Republicans harp on these fears to avoid change.

As a disabled vet an extra $50 a month, to keep the heat lights on is way too much (I walk everywhere). Many Americans are struggling but the top 1% an can afford a extra $500 a month to fuel their large homes and cars and pay for jet flights.

The rich and especially the wealthy can afford carbon fees for heating, cooling, higher prices at stores. It takes energy to make and move goods and the cost will hit consumers. The well to do can upgrade to battery powered cars (building new cars emits greenhouse gases) their lives will remain unchanged.

With so many people barely making it increasing the price of heat, transportation, goods and food would be devastating for many at the bottom, we need a carbon tax that looks at your wealth and total energy usage to set the proper fees. A baseline minimum should be tax free and those that use far above average amounts of energy should be highly taxed. Much of the carbon fees should be use to create jobs building better cites that don't require as much energy to power. People should be able to find affordable housing close to work, or a train station that can take them there quickly and efficiently.

SueN's picture
SueN 7 years 4 weeks ago

It is indeed very difficult to achieve political solutions, If the carbon is taxed at source, then it would have some effect on everybody. This would be less of a problem if everyone was paid a living wage, or received adequate benefits, and these were adjusted accordingly.

By cutting subsidies to fossil fuel companies and taxing the carbon, then using the savings to subsidise renewables so they were more affordable and to help out those that need it, the change could be brought about without hurting anyone but those invested in fossil fuel.

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