In what has become an alarmingly frequent refrain since the turn of the 21st century, climate scientists reported on Wednesday that 2016 was the hottest year to date, burning through a record set the previous year, and marking the first time that the Earth’s average temperature has reached a new height three years in a row.
According to scientists from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, five of the last 15 years have broken temperature records. Scientists at NASA also confirmed 2016 was the warmest year since modern record keeping began in 1880.
The periodic warming of the upper Pacific Ocean commonly known as El Niño contributed to high temperatures over the last two years, the scientists reported, but the data is part of a long-term trend of manmade global warming.
Their announcement came the same day as U.S. senators questioned Scott Pruitt, President-Elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, about the incoming president’s repeated dismissal of long-established climate science.
“I do not believe that climate change is a hoax,” said Pruitt, the Republican attorney general of Oklahoma, when asked by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) to respond to claims Trump has made calling global warming a “hoax” created by China.
But Pruitt questioned climate science in general, saying “the ability to measure, with precision, the degree of human activity’s impact on the climate is subject to more debate” when pressed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Another one of Trump’s cabinet picks, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, did a similar dance in his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday.
“I believe the climate is changing,” Perry said to the senators, who will decide if he becomes the next secretary of energy. Perry had previously called climate science “unsettled” and a “contrived, phony mess.” And while he did not go that far at his hearing on Thursday, he appeared to endorse the debunked claim that there is serious debate about whether or not humans are the driving force behind climate change.
“Some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by man-made activity,” Perry said. “The question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t compromise economic growth, the affordability of energy or American jobs.”
Climate change is already taking a toll on the health and livelihoods of people around the world, including the United States, as The GroundTruth Project has reported in its series, “Living Proof.”
The new climate data released this week was particularly dire for the Arctic Ocean. Temperatures were up to 30 degrees Fahrenheit above average in the Arctic, where GroundTruth correspondents found environmental changes are contributing to record rates of suicide and worsening substance abuse.
In East Africa worsening droughts threaten to inflame violence, while superstorms in the Philippines create opportunity for sex traffickers. Rising temperatures may even increase the spread of infectious diseases, and rising sea-levels are a slow-motion catastrophe for which few cities are prepared.
On Thursday, former Vice President Al Gore’s new climate change documentary “An Inconvenient Sequel,” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Referring to Trump, Gore told the audience, “There have been a lot of people who’ve started out as deniers and who have changed over time. Whether he will or not remains to be seen.”
He added, “Whether or not Donald Trump, inaugurated tomorrow, will take the kind of approach that continues this progress, we’ll have to see, but let me reiterate, no one person can stop this.”