The numbers say it's officially here now.
On Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that Earth’s global temperature for February was among the hottest ever measured. So far, 2015 is tracking above record-warm 2014—which, when combined with the newly resurgent El Niño, means we’re on pace for another hottest year in history.
In addition to the just-completed warmest winter on record globally (despite the brutal cold and record snow in the eastern U.S.), new data on Thursday from the National Snow and Ice Data Center show that this year’s peak Arctic sea ice reached its lowest ever maximum extent, thanks to “an unusual configuration of the jet stream” that greatly warmed the Pacific Ocean near Alaska.
But here’s the most upsetting news. It’s been exactly 30 years since the last time the world was briefly cooler than its 20th-century average. Every single month since February 1985 has been hotter than the long-term average—that’s 360 consecutive months.
More than just being a round number, the 30-year streak has deeper significance. In climatology, a continuous 30-year stretch of data is traditionally what’s used to define what’s “normal” for a given location. In a very real way, we can now say that for our given location—the planet Earth—global warming is now “normal.” Forget debating—our climate has officially changed.
So yes, the debate on climate change is now over. What happens now is how we choose to deal with it: do nothing if not make the situation even worse, or try to limit the damage.
Imagine another 30 years, 360 consecutive months, all warmer than the average of the planet over the last 100 years. And then another. California's drought is the new normal. New England record snows are the new normal. Florida hurricanes and Kansas F5 tornadoes and Arizona wildfires and Louisiana flooding? All the new normal.
If you're 30 or younger, climate change has been the norm for your entire life. Storms of the Century ever couple of years has been what you have always known, from Hugo to Andrew to Katrina to Sandy. And the next 30 years? Most likely much worse.
We're only just beginning to feel the effects.