Many readers are aware of the climate talks taking place in Paris this week. They are the latest great chance to do something about the ever obvious changing climate. That, in itself, gives us reason to be optimistic. But from a climate scientist perspective, where I interact with sober colleagues who have long been frustrated at the lack of meaningful action, I have a greater reason for hope.
First, it is ironic that this meeting takes place during the hottest year ever recorded by humans. Below is a graphic from NASA showing how this year's temperature fits into their record. While the end of the year is still a month away, I can make this projection because of nearly month-long projections that show December is running hot. So, my prediction is this year is approximately 0.1C (0.18F) hotter than 2014 (which was the previous record).
NASA Global temperatures with 2015 included
We have also seen another wild weather year with amazing heat waves, an incredibly stormy Pacific Ocean, drought in the Western USA, and others. So why am I optimistic?
Well, a few things have transpired in the past few years to show that real progress is possible. First of all, and perhaps most significant, is that the United States has moved from laggard to leader in international climate negotiations. Under the prior president, we would be blocking, halting, and dismissing any meaningful action on climate. Now we are initiating the actions. As a result, there are major agreements with our international partners, particularly China that bend the curve of our emissions downward.
Next, the USA has done much domestically, such as formulated and instituted rules on coal-based electricity, increased fuel efficiency, reductions of other greenhouse gases, increased renewable energy production, killed the dumb-from-the-beginning Keystone pipeline, to name a few.
Despite this and the naysayers, our economy hasn't collapsed, job growth continues in the energy sector, cost of energy is not rising. And that brings the last point that causes me to be optimistic. Now, renewable energy sources compete heat-to-head with dirty fuels on a straight economic basis. Businesses are now pricing this into their decisions, you don't need a crystal ball to know that fossil fuels will become a stranded asset. It will be interesting to see how long some of the fossil fuel companies have known this and whether they have been straightforward with their investors.
The juxtaposition of the hottest year ever record along with the real action taking place on lowering the rate of climate change is a perfect setup for the Paris conference. The evidence is stronger that our climate has a fever but the evidence is also stronger that we can do something meaningful about it.
Dr. John Abraham
University of St.Thomas
This post is part of a "Voices from the Lab" series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (Nov. 30-Dec. 11), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on environmental scientists and their perspectives on climate change, and is part of HuffPost's What's Working editorial initiative. To view the entire series, visit here.