OPINION: 2013 was a record-breaking year in many respects. Peyton Manning broke the record for the most touchdowns and passing yards thrown in a single NFL season. At age 19, Ryan Campbell became the youngest person to circumnavigate the world, and at age 80, Yuichiro Miura was the oldest to climb Mount Everest.
While many of the records broken last year demonstrated remarkable human stamina, determination, and grit, there were other “accomplishments” that shouldn’t be received so warmly.
Sacramento, for example, experienced the driest year since they began measuring rainfall in 1878. Conditions are so dry that some cities in the Central Valley are already imposing water rationing orders and more are expected to follow. According to the U.S. Drought Monitoring System, approximately 85% of the state is suffering from severe drought, and the snow pack is so meager in some places, there is simply no snow to measure.
Across California, temperatures on Christmas Day set new heat records, reaching 15 degrees above average in some areas. These unseasonably high temperatures followed a record-breaking cold snap just a few weeks earlier, begging the question of whether Santa left sweaters or T-shirts under the tree.
These extreme weather records are not just unique to California. This past December, New York City, Philadelphia, and Atlantic City all broke previous high temperature records– which has now been followed by extreme cold and snow storms across the eastern half of the U.S.
One question on the minds of many is what is causing this extreme weather, and whether man-made climate change is the culprit. The response lies in science. That is, while it is difficult to attribute individual weather events to climate change, the continued rise in record-breaking events is just what has been predicted and statistically too significant to ignore.
Ironically, unlike records from sports or other human feats, it takes drive and determination to avoid breaking climate change records. Scientific experts across the world agree that after over a century of increasing fossil fuel combustion, the planet is on a path towards more frequent extreme weather events, and we must cut climate pollution to stop this from happening. This will require investment in low-carbon solutions like clean energy, clean fuels, and efficiency.
Similar to how taking steroids out of baseball brought the sport back to its rightful state, cutting climate pollution through efforts like California’s Global Warming Law, AB 32, will bring the atmosphere back towards greater stability. Though the state can’t solve climate change alone, AB 32 is a huge step in the right direction, one which is leading other jurisdictions to take action.
Like home runs and touchdowns, droughts and snowstorms will always be a part of the environment we experience, we just don’t need any extra ones. As climate pollution is reduced, and with it the human caused impacts of climate change, we’ll see lot fewer records being broken every year, letting communities – and statisticians everywhere – live a little better.
Ed’s Note: Tim O’Connor is the Attorney and Director of Environmental Defense Fund’s California Climate and Energy Initiative in the San Francisco office. <b>(Above: San Gabriel Dam, December 2013, after two years of drought. Photo: Shannon1/Wikimedia)</b>