The Aberrant Global Synchrony of Present-Day Warming

During the Common Era (the past 2,000 years), the two best-known such climate epochs are the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Climate Anomaly (also called the Medieval Warm Period; Fig. 1). The former was a cool period that extended from the sixteenth to the late nineteenth centuries; the latter was a warm, dry period between AD 950 and 1250. Many assume that these intervals had a global impact. But in a paper in Nature and in a companion paper in Nature Geoscience, Neukom et al. demonstrate that these and earlier climate epochs in the Common Era were much smaller in scope than the near-global reach of current human-induced warming.

The familiar maxim that the climate is always changing is certainly true. But even when we push our perspective back to the earliest days of the Roman Empire, we cannot discern any event that is remotely equivalent — either in degree or extent — to the warming over the past few decades. Today’s climate stands apart in its torrid global synchrony.

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