Peterborough Examiner  – February 9, 2024 – by Drew Monkman

I get it. Reading about climate change is depressing. There’s no doubt that for some people it causes severe anxiety. But, in case you’re tempted to turn away from reading any further, being uninformed will only make the climate crisis worse. It’s akin to ignoring the symptoms of a serious illness until it’s too late to do anything about it. It’s imperative to stay informed.

Here’s some climate news items from recent weeks and months that we need to pay attention to.

Peterborough is warming quickly:  The mean temperature for 2023 in Peterborough was 7.7 C. This is 1.8 C higher than the 1971-2000 average of 5.9 C. January 2024 was an astounding 5.2 C warmer than usual. To see a 2010-2024 temperature archive for Peterborough, go to It’s a real eye-opener.

Soaring CO2 levels: The atmospheric CO2 reading for the week ending January 30, 2024 was 422.33 parts per million (ppm), compared to 419.69 ppm a year ago. This represents a one-year change of 2.64 ppm which is enormous. The highest-ever CO2 level in recorded human history – and millions of years before that – was 425.01 ppm on April 28, 2023. We can expect a new record to be set in spring 2024. To see the latest CO2 numbers, go to

Hottest year on record:  According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, 2023 was 1.48 C warmer than the pre-industrial average from 1850-1900, making it the hottest year on record. Ocean temperatures in some regions were also much higher than climate change models had predicted. Scientists are particularly alarmed because the high temperatures occurred in advance of the establishment of the El Niño climate pattern that warms surface waters in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.

Halting fossil fuel expansion: In some rare good news, on January 26 US President Joe Biden paused all approvals to permit new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal expansion. Citing his reasons for the pause, Biden said there is now “an evolving understanding of the perilous impacts of methane (natural gas) on our planet”. According to American climate activist and well-known author Bill McKibben, “This is the biggest thing a U.S. president has ever done to stand up to the fossil fuel industry.” McKibben acknowledges that the decision doesn’t guarantee long-term victory, but it does set up a process where victory is possible.

Big payouts to shareholders: The year 2023 was marked by weather events that made it clear that the Earth has entered what United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called the “era of global boiling”. But, for the world’s five largest oil giants, the year marked record profits and the approval of several major new fossil fuel projects, allowing the companies to lavish their shareholders with payouts that are expected to exceed $100 billion. The Guardian newspaper reported on January 1 that British Petroleum, Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil and TotalEnergies spent $104 billion on shareholder payouts in 2022 and are expected to reward investors with even more in buybacks and dividends for 2023. As Alice Harrison, a climate campaigner for Global Witness told The Guardian, “The global energy crisis has been a giant cash grab for fossil fuel firms and instead of investing their record profits in clean energy, these companies are doubling down on oil, gas, and shareholder payouts.”

Red alert in Antarctica: Data collected by scientists in Antarctica is showing an extremely worrying trend. The melting of ice is happening at triple the speed of previous decades (more than 1.5 million square km were lost in 2023 alone) causing rising sea levels that would be catastrophic for coastal communities. According to a new study published October 23, 2023 in the journal Nature Climate Change, even if the world meets ambitious targets to limit global heating, West Antarctica will experience substantial ocean warming and ice shelf melting. Researchers say a permanent fall in sea ice is likely to accelerate ocean warming, as dark water absorbs more heat than ice. It will also have a huge negative impact on species such as penguins, krill, fish and seals that rely on sea ice for food, breeding and refuge.

Drought in South America: South America is still in the midst of extreme heat and drought. The extreme weather is imperilling the lives of millions in a region where many reside in slums or informal housing with little infrastructure.  The average temperature in Buenos Aires in early August this past year was 30 C, whereas normally it’s 15 C. Experts say the extreme weather is already threatening critical biodiversity in areas like the Amazon. A new report from World Weather Attribution estimates that climate change increased the likelihood of the 2023 Amazon drought by a factor of 30. Ben Clarke, one of the report’s authors and a researcher at the Imperial College London, said the results might come as a surprise to some. “As the Amazon drought worsened in 2023, many people pointed to El Niño to explain the event. While El Niño did lead to lower levels of rainfall, our study shows that climate change is the main driver of the drought through its influence on higher temperatures.”

Coral reefs at tipping point:   Coral reefs, the cornerstone of marine biodiversity, could soon be pushed to the brink. Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg from the University of Queensland is  issuing a stark warning: 2024 may see unprecedented mass coral bleaching, heralding a crisis of global proportions. Hoegh-Guldberg is a scientist whose work has shaped our understanding of ocean ecosystems. Record surface ocean temperatures are setting the  stage for a perilous conjunction with the current El Niño event, spelling potential disaster for coral reefs. 

Poilievre soaring in the polls: Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre is still enjoying an astonishing 15 point lead in the polls. How could this be when he doesn’t even have a plan to address climate change and won’t say if he’ll commit Canada to achieving its promised emissions targets under the Paris Agreement? All we hear is “axe the (carbon) tax”. As a society, we seem less and less able to think long-term. Despite being saturated in climate change information, we’re still stuck in short-termism: a collective failure to escape the present moment and look further ahead. Here’s the bottom line: To limit warming to about 1.5 C, maintain livable conditions on Earth and enable stable societies, we need to cut yearly global emissions by 43% from 2019 levels by 2030. However, even if countries achieved their current climate pledges, emissions would decrease by only 7%. Our only chance of doing better is to put the right politicians in office. The Pierre Poilievres and Danielle Smiths of this world are not who we should be turning to.

The fabled frog analogy:  The lead editorial in the Toronto Star on January 17 gave a grim viewpoint on the state of climate inaction in Canada. It ended with these words: “But perhaps humankind is neurologically wired to fail to react to dangers that should prompt significant action. Perhaps our species will go obliviously to calamity like the fabled frog basking in the pot of increasingly hot water. One thing is certain. No one can ever say we weren’t warned.”

A humble suggestion: Something I’ve long argued for is daily weather reporting on television and radio, in newspapers, and on the internet that makes regular reference to climate change. Reading or listening to a typical weather report today, you’re unlikely to hear climate change mentioned at all.

Weather presenters should be playing a leadership role in teaching the public about what’s happening in a community’s local climate. They should be pointing out how the temperatures of a given day, week or month compare to the long-term averages. January was a staggering 5.2 C warmer than usual but, as far as I know, this was never reported on our local CHEX-Global TV weather news. Listeners would think all is fine.

Weather reports should also include the daily reading of atmospheric CO2, point out how quickly the level is rising, and explain that this is the main driver of global heating. It’s also time to stop spinning any warm spell as wonderful news, even when it’s happening in January and February and has the fingerprints of climate change all over it! 

Categories: Columns

Drew Monkman

I am a retired teacher, naturalist and writer with a love for all aspects of the natural world, especially as they relate to seasonal change.