After a close round of voting, the winner of our Place of the Year 2019 is the atmosphere!
While the global conversation around climate change has increased in recent years, 2019 set many records – this past summer tied for the hottest one on record in the northern hemisphere, continuing the trend of extreme weather set by deadly cold winter temperatures, heavy snowfalls, and catastrophic mudslides and typhoons worldwide. (In fact, the upswing of the term “climate emergency,” which was used 10,796% more frequently this year than in 2018, led to it being selected as Oxford’s Word of the Year 2019).
Climate change claimed its first Icelandic glacier as a victim, where researchers marked the event with memorial plaque, and Arctic sea ice experienced the largest September decrease in 1,000 years. In an unprecedented loss, Greenland (roughly 80% of which is covered in ice) had two large ice-melts, culminating in a record-breaking loss of 58 billion tons of ice in one year—40 billion more tons than the average. In November, Greenland’s main airport Kangerlussuaq Airport reported that they will cease to operate civilian flights within five years due to runways cracking as the permafrost melts below them. As a result, Greenland is building a new airport in a more stable location. All of these climate events are driven by the carbon dioxide being poured into the oceans and Earth’s atmosphere by human activities, from corporations’ carbon footprints to the deliberate burning of the Amazon in exchange for timber and livestock pastures.
In September, the focus moved from drastic weather and climate events to the policy realm when the International Panel on Climate Change released a landmark report that the effects of climate change are being felt much more severely, and sooner, than previously anticipated; hundred-year floods are projected to become a yearly occurrence by 2050 in many locations, and global sea levels may rise as much as three feet by 2100 (this is 12% higher than the most recent 2013 estimate). Also in September, over 4 million people worldwide participated in a global climate strike, and the United Nations hosted a Climate Action Summit in New York City with the objective to limit the rising of the global average temperature. Yet despite the international conversations and dire scientific warnings, 2019 is projected to be the year with the highest carbon emissions of all time, and while the fact that the ozone hole is the smallest it’s been since its discovery might sound like a silver lining, it’s actually being kept at its reduced side by the record heat in our atmosphere.
The runner-up for the Place of the Year was New Zealand, which entered the global conversation after a terrorist attack on two mosques was swiftly followed by governmental bans on assault weapons and increased gun control.