Depending on which group of scientists you ask, 2020 was either tied for or second after 2016, the hottest year on record. Measure against a baseline of mean temperatures between 1951 and 1980, NASA concluded that the planet’s average global temperature was slightly warmer last year than in 2016. But the difference was so small that the agency said the two years are indeed linked for the warmest year on record. Meanwhile, the The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which uses a different baseline and methodology than the space agency, concluded that 2020 was the second warmest year on the planet.
Two events in the past year have had a significant, albeit somewhat counterintuitive, effect on the planet’s surface temperatures. The forest fires that ravaged about 46 million acres of land in Australia sent columns of smoke 18 kilometers into the atmosphere. According to NASA, these smoke particles probably cooled the atmosphere slightly. However, the small reprieve the planet was able to take from this event was subsequently made up for when a drop in air pollution caused by a reduction in human activity due to the coronavirus pandemic allowed more of sunlight reaching the surface of the planet, creating “a small but potentially significant warming effect.” When it comes to climate change, it seems like you are losing no matter what.