As scientists confirm that 2014 has been the hottest year in recorded history, the topic of climate change and rising temperatures is becoming all the more pressing.
A joint report released by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that 2014 has been the hottest year since the 1880s. The report also found that 10 of the warmest years since scientists started measuring global temperatures have all taken place since 2000.
Simon Donner, a UBC geography professor specializing in climate change, said that while global temperatures during individual years in the future may be better than others, the overall trend of rapid climate change is undeniable and cannot be ignored.
“2014 is the warmest year in recorded history, but this is just more evidence of the drum beat of climate change,” said Donner. “2015 may not break the record, but then 2016 might. The trend is upwards and there’s no doubt whatsoever about that.”
Donner also said that, if current rising temperature trends continue, we could see global temperatures rise by four degrees by the end of the century. This could also lead to sea levels rising by as much as a metre and parts of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland becoming inundated by ocean.
According to Donner, a major deciding factor in whether current temperature trends will continue has to do with whether governments choose to switch away from fossil fuels as a source of energy in the upcoming years.
"There are individual actions that people can take, but it’s also going to take collective action," said Donner. "It’s going to take governments seeing the value in switching to renewable forms of energy."
At the same time, Donner stressed the importance of individual people also working together to curb rising temperatures, whether it be through making individual choices to live more sustainably or lobbying for the government to make climate change a priority on the agenda.
As rising temperatures are a pervasive and longterm problem, it can often feel like individual choices don't make a meaningful difference when compared to the collective decisions made by governments and corporations. Still, Donner said that as the problem of climate change is complex, finding sustainable solutions will also take contributions from many different people.
“It’s not like we’re polluting a lake with mercury where if you just plug the pipe everything will get better,” said Donner. “We all have to take actions together and so it can be easy to say ‘why should I do it?’ and that’s why it’s really important to coordinate and to try and work together as much as possible.”
In particular, Donner said that students and other young people need to be at the forefront of climate change, as how they choose to address it in the next decades will shape whether it reaches a point when it can no longer be reversed.
“You’re being handed a debt from the past of all these greenhouse gases that were put into the atmosphere, but you’re being handed the opportunity to be the one to solve the problem,” said Donner.