Tired of hearing how every month or year is one for the record books? So are some climate scientists

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its monthly climate report for the month of October on Wednesday and, once again, it was one for the record books.

They found that global land and surface temperatures for the month were the warmest on record, coming it at 1.34 C warmer than the 20th-century average. This followed a similar finding from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Services (C3S), as well as four months of consecutive record-setting temperatures.

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Now NOAA says there is greater than a 99 per cent chance that 2023 will beat out 2016 as the hottest year on record.

In today’s warming world, it seems every month or year is like a scene out of Groundhog Day with the same message over and over and over: Earth’s temperature is rising to dangerous levels and putting the health of billions of people at risk.

Some climate scientists are also feeling tired of the repetitiveness, but say it’s something that bears repeating.

“Do you think that this is sounding repetitive? Do you have any idea how [frustrated] I am? It’s another record. But it’s important,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, last month in an inteview about global temperatures. “And what it tells us is something is going on, and that something is not going to go away until we change society.”

He’s not the only one.

“Yes, there is frustration,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of C3S. “There is also an emotional impact. Because in a sense, we are always the bearers of bad news.” 

But, he added, they are trying to present the findings in new ways to the public.

“There’s been an effort in reorganizing and presenting the point of view in novel ways and presenting it as not necessarily a positive, but giving or highlighting the agency that we have — the fact that the decisions are in our hands.”

It’s all about the trend

Each month, C3S and NOAA release their findings about global temperatures. While not every month is at the top of the charts, the trend is clear: Earth’s temperature is rising. 

It’s the misunderstanding of that trend that concerns Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist and activist.

“When everyone’s constantly talking about new records, my main thought is they don’t understand how trends work,” he said. “Because when you have a slope over time, when things are going up continuously over time, then, on average, every single year is a new record.

“The real story is that there’s an underlying trend that is absolutely not stopping.… So, yeah, I’m super tired of talking about records because people, for whatever reason, they’re not connecting the dots.”

Kalmus was arrested last year for protesting against inaction on climate change by locking himself to an entrance to the JPMorgan Chase building in Los Angeles.

He said getting arrested and risking his career is something he’s more than willing to do to get the message across that there needs to be real, substantive change.

Seeing the data and watching the world’s temperature rise alongside global emissions that show little to no sign of abating is something that weighs on his mind continuously. So much so, that he meditates three hours a day and attends a meditation retreat. CBC News spoke to him as he was on his way to one.

“This is the thing that allows me to sleep through the night and to continue to write stuff and to continue to do science,” he said by phone while charging his electric car. “Even though my heart is breaking from grief, the grief I can handle. The anxiety shuts me down, and the meditation practice helps me deal with that anxiety.”

The need for the message

While the message is most certainly repetitive, those who provide those monthly or annual numbers say they believe it’s a responsibility they take very seriously.

“I think everyone who deals with climate data as a climate scientist, or as a climate communicator, I think we all feel a sense of duty and responsibility to do our best to convey the most concise, consistent, accurate message possible for what’s going on,” said Karin Gleason, a climate scientist at NOAA’s National Centres for Environmental Information.

She says while we tend to frame things mentally like Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals for hottest years and months, the more important thing is what this really means in the long term. The cascading effects of this trend of warming — such as melting glaciers, thawing permafrost, crop losses and dwindling fish populations — are having real impacts on people.

“If you really want to bring it closer to home, which is I think the message that we really want people to connect with, because this is really why they should care about the message and the consistency of the message,” she said.

Ahira Sanchez, a climate policy advisor to NOAA’s senior leadership for climate, agrees these records need to be repeated and shared with the public.

“I think that we need to continue stating the message. I know it can be tiresome, but there’s still people out there that don’t quite understand it,” she said. “So I think repetitive is key, [but] being repetitive and explaining what’s happening.”

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