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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

The Week in Climate Part 1: Remember When October Was the Start of Fall?

By Phil Plait

One of the hardest parts of writing about global warming—and there are lots and lots of hard parts—is simply keeping up with the news. Much of it comes in short newsy bits, worth knowing but difficult to write about as an individual full post. Since the 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference is being held in Paris this week, I’m posting a weeklong series of shorter articles about global warming and its fallout. And read all of Slate’s coverage of the Paris climate talks here

2015 has been a hot one. The hottest, in fact: It’s a cinch to be the hottest year on record. Several months this year have been the hottest of those months on record—looking at each month since 1880, 2015 had the hottest February on record, as well as the hottest March, May, June, July, August, and September.

We can now add October to that list, with a vengeance: It blows any previous October over the past 135 years out of the water, about 0.2 C hotter than the previous record holder … which was October of last year, in 2014.

Note the trend in that graph: up, up, and away. And October 2015 was about 0.4 C hotter than the trend. Note too that this comes from two different agencies; both the Japan Meteorological Agency’s and NASA’s numbers agree.

As Tamino points out in that post linked above, October 2015 had the highest temperature anomaly (deviation from average) ever seen*. More than any July, any August. Think on that.

Incidentally, the faux “pause” is in the news again, mostly because of the fanatical crusade by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, against reality. To drive home just how embarrassingly wrong Smith is, a sixth study came out showing the “pause” doesn’t exist—and that’s the sixth study just this year. The Berkeley Earth group has chipped in as well, showing we’re warming up right on schedule. Even Smith's hometown paper lambastes him for his overreach and abuse of power.

Smith is not just wrong, he’s dangerous, pressuring scientists, sowing discord, and wasting great gobs of taxpayer money. Thanks to gerrymandering he’s unlikely to be voted out of office in Texas, but if the Republicans lose their House majority, he will no longer be chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology … and the U.S. will no longer be quite as big a global laughing stock when it comes to politics and science.

I’ll add that Kathryn Sullivan, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the environmental agency under attack by Smith, wrote a letter to Smith defending science and the scientists under her leadership, detailing his politically motivated (and fossil fuel–funded) shenanigans. In that letter, she writes (emphasis mine);

Finally, Mr. Chairman, let me assure you that I am not engaged in or associated with any “politically correct agenda”. I and the entire NOAA team take seriously the charge to provide the best environmental science and reliable data to the nation and the world. Our work is relied upon every day to drive commerce and to protect public safety and national security. I proudly serve President Obama, as I proudly served President Reagan, President Bush, President Clinton, and President Bush before him. I am a life-long public servant profoundly dedicated to using science to inform decision-making in the best interest of the nation. I have not and will not allow anyone to manipulate the science or coerce the scientists who work for me.

Holy. WOW. I know she’s defending the allegations about those scientists in that last line, but it also reads very much to me like an accusation directed at Smith.

Dr. Sullivan is a freakin’ national hero. When Smith’s comeuppance comes, and this long global nightmare is behind us, I hope she receives a medal for defending reality in this way.

*Correction, Nov. 30, 2015: I originally wrote that October 2015 was the hottest month on record, when it had the highest temperature anomaly on record.

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