Intense flames driven by extreme drought conditions, wind and hot weather sweep over a remote section of the San Bernardino National Forest during the Blue Cut Fire on August 18, 2016 near Wrightwood, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Over the last decade, the climate emergency became front-page news

The climate has changed over the last 10 years, and public awareness is now high. But the hard work is still ahead


Steven Strader
December 21, 2019 2:00PM (UTC)

Over the past decade, it’s not just the climate that’s changed drastically — media coverage of and public interest in the issue have increased dramatically as well. In 2010, anthropogenic or human-induced climate change was mostly the purview of select, interested scientists. As we move into 2020, it now makes the front page of newspapers and websites across the country on a nearly daily basis, and its champions are known to the world by name. (Greta Thunberg, anyone?)

It makes sense: six of the last ten years have been in the top ten warmest on global record. At this point, it’s very likely – if not nearly certain – that 2015-2019 will turn out to be the hottest five years on record globally up until now. The odds of that being a naturally-occurring phenomenon are close to zero.

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Nowhere in the U.S. have the effects of a changing climate been realized more so than in the West, where in the 2010s wildfires wreaked havoc year after year. California, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Washington all experienced record-breaking drought and wildfires over the last decade. In California, 2018’s Camp Fire became the most damaging and deadliest wildfire in history, destroying 18,000+ homes and killing 85 people in the ironically-named city of Paradise.

It wasn’t just wildfires. Other disastrous effects of a warming world included:

This list goes on and on as the atmosphere gets warmer and warmer. If there’s anything for scientists, climatologists, policymakers, and the public to learn from the past decade, it’s that we have our work cut out for us to combat the rising trend of disasters around the world. All projections point to a progressively warmer Earth, economic disasters, and societal losses if action isn’t taken — and taken now. We don’t have until 2025, 2050, or another arbitrary deadline to wait.

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Sure, we can all play our individual role by choosing “greener” and more sustainable options in our everyday life: taking public transportation, using renewable energy, avoiding single-use plastics, reducing red meat consumption, etc. However, to slow climate change and stem the negative consequences, national and global leaders need to step up and take action on a large scale.

Some regions and countries have stepped up, made pledges, committed to change in a variety of ways. And that’s okay. There’s no one solution, no magic bullet to fix the climate change issue. There are a lot of ways, big and little, that can be done — and, in concert, act together to solve the problem.

As TIME crowned Greta Thunberg its Person of the Year, Oxford Dictionary named “climate emergency” its 2019 word of the year. It’s easy to be afraid and fearful of the future when all we see as scientists and citizens are rising temperatures, deadlier disasters, and a lack of drastic climate action. However, we can’t let fear result in crippling inaction. We need it to motivate us to fight not for just our futures, but our children’s, grandchildren’s, and great grandchildren’s futures. Only then do we give them a fighting chance to see the world the way we used to: safe, and beautiful.

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Steven Strader

Dr. Steven Strader is a physical geographer, atmospheric scientist, and geographic information systems (GIS) analyst with interests in coupled human-environment interactions, severe and local storms, mesoscale meteorology, natural hazard vulnerability and risk, and GIScience applications in the geophysical, atmospheric, and hazard sciences.  His past research has primarily concentrated on the spatiotemporal changes in meteorological and environmental hazard exposure, future changes in severe weather risk and exposure, and the development of a Monte Carlo tornado model that assess potential damage and losses on the human-built environment.

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