Going day by day, year by year, it’s hard for any person to realise just how much the planet is warming as time goes on. So, the best way to see this difference in warming over the years is to keep a record of some kind. And luckily for us, some people have done that.
Now, let’s put it another way. According to this graphic, 2016, the hottest year since records began, is only 1.69 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the 20th century average. Of course, that 1.69 degrees doesn’t sound like much, but we have to keep in mind that the difference in temperature between our present-day average and during the Ice Age when large parts of the Northern Hemisphere was under 3000 feet of ice in the form o glaciers, was only of about 5 degrees. We have this information from the records we were able to gather based on the still-existing ice and fossilised trees.
It is, of course, true that global temperatures vary over time, especially from the planet’s perspective, but this recent warming of Earth is 100% the work of man. With the discovery of the steam engine back in 1750 and then with the onset of the Industrial Age during the 1800’s, CO2 levels in the atmosphere had begun to skyrocket. So much so that by 2011 there were 150 times more greenhouse gases in the air than in 1850. Other natural factors like El Niño, also played a part, but it’s small by comparison.
Weather record keeping began as early as 1659 in England, but it was only in 1873 when nations decided to share their data and form the World Meteorological Organization. Official global records began appearing only after 1880.
The 1940s Warming Spike
As we can see in the graph above, there was a spike in rising temperatures during the 1940’s. Interestingly enough, that growing trend was cut short by aerosol particles coming from coal and oil, and which acted as reflectors in the atmosphere and actually kept the planet cooler. But by the 1970’s, CO2 levels had outpaced those aerosols and the planet began heating up at an unprecedented rate.