The World Meteorological Association and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration again announced that the past year has been the hottest since recordkeeping began in the 1880s. 2016, therefore, sets a record for the third straight year, building on the high worldwide temperatures experienced in both 2014 and 2015. NOAA reports that 16 of the 17 hottest years ever recorded have occurred since 2000, with global temperatures in 2016 climbing to 1.98 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial averages.
Though an El Niño year in 2016 contributed to the higher-than-normal global averages, there is no doubt that we have seen an escalating trend of warming temperatures, especially since the beginning of the 21st century. Though many scientists expect 2017 to be somewhat cooler than the past year due to the lack of El Niño, they do not underestimate the human influence on a clearly warming trend.
In the political sphere, however, many Republicans question the accepted science of climate change, and disagree that human emissions are its root cause. Scott Pruitt, nominated by President Donald J. Trump to head the Environmental Protection Agency, belongs to this group of climate deniers.
Pruitt, in his senate confirmation hearing, questioned the contributions of human emissions to climate change, saying that his own opinion was “immaterial.” Taking place on the same day as NOAA published an official report declaring 2016 the hottest year on record, Pruitt seemed unchanged by the reality of climate change. Instead, he opposes the Clean Power Plan, a series of climate change regulations adopted by President Obama in December 2015 that Donald Trump has also suggested repealing.
Mr. Pruitt dismissed questioning regarding oil fracking in his home state of Oklahoma, which is now causing up to three earthquakes per day, as well as asthma, which has grown to be very prevalent within the state due to air pollution. As acting Attorney General of Oklahoma, he sued the EPA on numerous occasions regarding pollution and other regulations; however none of these suits addressed the aforementioned environmental degradation. This record is extremely troubling to scientists and climate activists. As the earth surpasses new temperature milestones, action is necessary by the federal government, though with the Trump administration in office, it seems unlikely.
The uncertainty regarding climate change and renewable energy within the political landscape is forcing states and businesses to take sustainability initiatives themselves. California, for instance, issued new climate change measures just 37 minutes after Trump’s inauguration that would greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state. In New York, the Long Island Power Authority just reached an agreement with Deepwater Wind to install 15 offshore wind turbines, appropriate to power 50,000 homes, that could be installed about 35 miles from Montauk.
This would be a huge step forward for renewable energy projects, as offshore wind has an immense potential to provide electricity for the United States.
As the current political administration continues to deny the clear science of climate change, the initiative to be more sustainable must be adopted by states and energy companies. The EPA and federal government may encourage fossil fuel usage due to deregulation of industry, however the climate will continue to change and states must take action to slow this natural response.
Action on climate change has been more promising over the last few years with deals like the Paris and Kigali agreements, but with no further leadership from the federal government, the future of pollution regulations and sustainability initiatives is extremely uncertain.