(CN) — Scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration held a media briefing Thursday morning to discuss the climate and weather trends of 2022, sounding the alarm on rising temperatures around the world.
Depending on the methodology used, the scientists said 2022 was either the fifth or sixth hottest year on record. NASA claims it was the fifth warmest, tied with 2015, while NOAA's slightly different analysis found it was the sixth warmest. But both agencies agree that Earth was about 2 degrees Fahrenheit - or 1 degree Celsius - warmer on average in 2022 than it was in the 1880s. Last year also saw an increasing number of dangerous weather events, steadily melting sea ice and ever-warming oceans.
"Each of the past four decades has been warmer than the decade which proceeded it," said Russell Vose, chief of the analysis and synthesis branch of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. "It's probably warmer now than at any time in the last 2,000 years."
Vose added there's a 50% chance that by 2030, global warming may exceed the Paris climate agreement's stated goal of limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages.
"There's a 50/50 chance that we have one year in the 2020s that jumps above 1.5 degrees," Vose said.
Vose further predicted that the world may see sustained average temperatures 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels by the 2030s or 40s. Such drastic, sustained temperature increases could wreak havoc on both the global ecosystem and society. An accompanying sea level rise could potentially impact millions of people, with NOAA predicting in September that 4.2 million people in the U.S. could be at risk if sea levels rose by just 3 feet.
The risk is even greater in South and East Asia, where more than a third of all people on Earth live. According to the European Union-funded Life Adaptable project, over 100 million people in China, India and Bangladesh could be displaced by rising seas. While the melting of polar sea ice contributes to this process, the increasing temperature of the oceans is itself a major factor. Matter expands when it gets hot, and seawater is no exception.
According to Vose, a La Niña system in the Eastern Pacific slightly lowered global temperatures last year. Despite this, he said, the global ocean system was still storing more than 90% of planet's anthropogenic excess heat.
Other worrying developments in 2022 included a yearlong drought in North America that by late October was affecting 63% of the continental U.S., and record-breaking rainfall in Pakistan that created floods impacting more than 30 million people.
Given the current trajectory of climate change, the frequency of these severe weather events will likely only increase, according to Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
"I wish we could tell a different story, but that's not what we're paid to do," Schmidt said.
Schmidt advocated for exerting collective agency in altering the planet's current climate trajectory, but did not recommend any specific actions. While he also laid the blame for the worst climate offenses on the energy industry broadly, he declined to "name and shame" any specific companies involved in fossil fuel extraction or energy production.
His apparent neutrality is not shared by other scientists. Earlier on Thursday, a study published in the online academic journal Science explicitly accused oil giant ExxonMobil of internally predicting climate change as early as the 1970s, but hiding their findings from the public.
"In 2017... we demonstrated that Exxon’s internal documents, as well as peer-reviewed studies published by Exxon and ExxonMobil Corp scientists, overwhelmingly acknowledged that climate change is real and human-caused," the study's authors wrote in its abstract. "By contrast, the majority of Mobil and ExxonMobil Corp’s public communications promoted doubt on the matter."
An additional study known as the Carbon Majors Report, published in 2017 by environmental charity CDP, found that just 100 fossil fuel producers were responsible for 71% of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions from 1988 to 2015. ExxonMobil is among them.
Tensions over the role of the energy industry - and capitalism itself - in creating climate crises have only escalated in recent years. Environmentalist groups such as Extinction Rebellion, as well as indigenous peoples, individual climate activists and scientists have all taken to confronting energy corporations and climate inaction directly through protests, occupations and sabotage. High-profile environmentalist icons such as Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough have also explicitly blamed a profit and growth-driven economic system as the cause of environmental destruction and climate disaster.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson also took a more pointed stance than Schmidt on Thursday. In his opening remarks on the briefing, he directly called on state leaders, not just individuals, to take action in light of worsening climate trends.
"Science leaves no room for doubt... extreme weather patterns are threatening lives across this planet," Nelson said. "If our leaders do not act on this scientific data, our ice sheets will continue to melt, our oceans will continue to acidify."
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.