September brought more record global temperatures, but did anyone really notice?

The planet’s average temperature for each month take several weeks to calculate. We just learned this week that September of 2015 was another “record breaking” month in the global database.

Another Hot Month
The continued headlining of each month as “record breaking” can become routine. There are 1,629 months in the NOAA database, and one-twelfth of those are Septembers. According to NOAA, September 2015 ranked as the warmest.

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In my college course, students have many opportunities to be graded. The more numbers they have in their personal database, the better picture I can achieve of their performance. If a student is only given two chances to be graded, there is a stronger likelihood for an anomaly than if they are given 15 such assessments.

In order to find the planet’s baseline temperature, the World Meteorological Organization recommends using 30 years to calculate and set this reading. We want to understand how each month and year compares to the average, therefore we compare these temperatures to the mean of 30 years — from 1981 to 2010. We can look at things like ocean temperature, land temperature and a combination of both. What’s interesting is different organizations use slightly different methods to do this. Even here in the United States, NASA and NOAA have slightly different numbers. The folks in England and Japan also have different methods of calculating this.

What’s Average?
The global temperature is complicated to come by; after all it’s not like the planet has a big thermometer sticking out of it that we can read. However, according to the World Meteorological Organization, 57.2°F (14.0°C), is basically the accepted current temperature of Earth. This is about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average from the 1800s.


Especially over the past 20 years, each month has been reported warmer than the long-term average. Even though there might be disagreement on the exact number, the trend is the same, always warmer.

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The final number for 2015 won’t be known until sometime in January, but it’s highly likely the entire year will be the “warmest on record.” Part of the reason for the confidence in this being a record warm year is El Nino. This natural phenomenon is particularly strong this year. Part of the strength of this year’s El Nino may be due in part to the carbon dioxide human activity added to the atmosphere over the past century. How much of the power of this year’s El Nino is attributable to anthropogenic warming is debatable.

Altering The Natural Flow
The planet’s natural temperature fluctuations can certainly be altered and enhanced by things we do to it. How much alteration and enhancement we are causing one could argue, but it’s not zero. The more pressure we put on the planet’s ability to naturally regulate itself, the harder it is to achieve some homeostatic state and perhaps this helps explain an increase in volatile weather.

It’s Already Going To Happen
Data enthusiasts love to tout records. The reality is — and I am sure some will give me flack for this — what is going to occur this month, next month, next year, and even in the upcoming decades is already in place. All the catastrophes from floods to heat waves to hurricanes are already lined up waiting to occur. You just have to hope you are fortunate enough to be able to weather them. The super storm waiting to happen in 2025, is going to happen regardless of anything we do. Humans underwent progress; we used what we used and continue to do so. I sometimes believe some are like the parent who just continues to scold their child long after the event has occurred rather than deal with the broken pieces.


Short of some catastrophic cataclysmic event, over geological time, the planet will continue to thrive. It might not be thriving in the way it is today, but it will live on. I’m not saying to employ a scorched-earth method of living, because none of this matters. That’s irresponsible and not my ethos, far from it.

Change the Conversation
But what I am saying is I’d love to see the conversation change. I’m not sure where touting records each month gets us. Like car alarms, who really listens anymore even if there is someone stealing the car? There are pockets of people passionate about this subject, but it hasn’t gained critical acceptance by the public.

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For those people alive now, who will be affected by natural events, what will we do to help them navigate inevitable disasters? For generations yet to be born, can we really ensure we don’t make what’s going to happen even worse? Do we just have to wait until the technology becomes so pervasive that the role humans play in climate change becomes less and less significant? I think it’s really hard for humans to make hard choices where they can’t see the results or have concrete evidence beyond scientific models.

Ozone Treaty as a Model?

Back in the mid-’80s an irrefutable link between CFC’s and the depletion of Ozone resulted in the first global environmental treaty. The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer has since effectively resulted in averting a disaster. If the problem of human-induced climate change is so great, what is this century’s irrefutable link that brings about a worldwide treaty? Will the climate summit in Paris, during early December, bring about anything meaningful? I have no idea the answer, but from my perspective the monthly temperature report isn’t working. What do you think? I’d love to hear from you on Twitter @growingwisdom

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