John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Scientists are still compiling evidence for that ignoble distinction.
This past year was marked with unusual bouts of sweltering heat. But did 2014 earn the ignoble prestige of being the warmest year in known history?
It sure did, according to a Think Progress article that's been picked up by several news sites, "2014 Was The Hottest Year On Record Globally By Far." Writes Joe Romm:
The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) has announced that 2014 was the hottest year in more than 120 years of record-keeping—by far....
What makes setting the record for hottest year in 2014 doubly impressive is that it occurred despite the fact we're still waiting for the start of El Niño. But this is what happens when a species keeps spewing record amounts of heat-trapping carbon pollution into the air, driving CO2 to levels in the air not seen for millions of years, when the planet was far hotter and sea levels tens of feet higher.
The "hottest year" claim is based on this accounting from Japan's meteorological service. The agency wrote that last year, the earth sweated through a temperature anomaly of .63 Celsius above the 20th-century average, making it "the warmest since 1891."
There's no doubt we're living in a perilous age of abnormal heat, and that humans helped usher it in. However, it must be noted (as Japan's agency does) that this data is "preliminary" and, if two time stamps can be trusted, was last updated on December 22, 2014. America's own climate-monitoring agencies, NASA and NOAA, have yet to issue their postmortems on 2014; they'll do that in the next couple of weeks.
It's possible these governmental bodies will back up the hottest-year distinction, given that the planet just had the warmest January-November period in recorded history. But at least one skeptic is claiming satellite measurements could establish 2014 as a lower-ranking year, and in the interest of thoroughness, it's best to wait for a plurality of assessments before nailing down the superlative.
In the meantime, we can get by saying it was a damnably warm year—indeed, the hottest on the books in the U.K.—and when seen as part of a trend, a frightening indicator of future climate. As NOAA points out: "Including 2013, 9 of the 10 warmest years in the 134-year period of record have occurred in the 21st century. Only one year during the 20th century—1998—was warmer than 2013."