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Jordan Peterson's take on the origins of the Buddha
In this short video, he compares the outset of Buddhism with the biblical garden.
- During this class, Jordan Peterson describes how overprotective parenting led to the creation of Buddhism.
- Peterson compares the Buddhist origin myth with the story of Eden.
- Both tales deal with the onset of consciousness and mortality and therefore are universal in appeal.
Jordan Peterson begins at the outset of the origin myth. Siddhārtha Gautama's father was a local oligarch in the region of modern-day Nepal. It was prophesied that his child would either become a great political king or spiritual leader. The chieftain would never have a mendicant for a son, and thus built a walled garden to enclose his offspring. This way the young Gautama would only experience the pleasures of life: health, youth, and beauty.
Father purposefully kept son from disease and death, hoping that by showing the future Buddha joy and mirth he would never feel the need to wander around sampling spiritual disciplines, meditating, chanting, and the like. Peterson finds this predictable:
"It's also in some sense what a good father would do. What do you do with your young children? Well, you don't expose them to death and decay at every step of the way. You build a protected world for them, like a walled enclosure, and you only keep what's healthy and life-giving inside of it."
You wouldn't bring a three-year-old to a funeral or show a four-year-old The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Peterson continues. Because the Buddha has been raised in good health, however, he seeks what's beyond the protective confines of that which has blessed him with health. He becomes, like all humans, curious.
Peterson compares this moment with a realization from Doestoevsky's Notes From the Underground: give people utopia and the first thing they want to do is smash it to pieces "just so something interesting and perverse can happen." Peterson continues,
"We're creatures that are designed to encounter the unknown. We want to keep moving beyond what we have, even if what we have is what we want. And maybe that's partly because we're oriented towards the future."
Jordan Peterson during his lecture at UofT. Photo credit: Rene Johnston / Toronto Star via Getty Images
Buddha might have felt confined by a few walls; today, Earth itself seems too restrictive. Jeff Bezos calls us, in honor of Isaac Asimov, "planetary chauvinists," while Elon Musk declares we must become a "multi-planetary species." Most likely, a mature Buddha would recommend they both curb their interplanetary enthusiasm and take better care of the planet that birthed us. Still, a young Gautama felt stuffy in his pleasure dome.
Peterson compares what happens next to modern-day China's Olympics preparation, spray painting grass green and evicting locals to offer an appearance of sterility. Gautama Sr. attempted to make the outside world as safe as his son's walled garden. He tells the sick and ugly to take a walk. Peterson calls it the snake in the garden theory:
"No matter how much care you take to make things perfect, some of what you're excluding is going to come back in."
A chosen route was strewn with flowers; beautiful women lined the road for young Gautama's chaperoned chariot. But then, as always, the gods intervened. Though Peterson doesn't mention it, they create an alternate — or in this case, real — route for the Buddha to travel that only the prince and his driver see. And what he saw was old age, disease, and death. That is, he learned about time.
Gautama returns home distressed, though awakened to the nature of reality — in this case, nature. He has finally felt the pain of sentience. Peterson mentions that he's comforted in the safety of his walled garden, again protected by caretakers who use hugging as an analgesic. Pain reduced, Gautama eventually fixes for his vice. Forget these golden robes, he thinks, I must understand pain and suffering. Peterson notes the parallel with the biblical garden, the onset of consciousness after the tempting fruit is bitten.
In Peterson's retelling, the Buddha needed six months before venturing out again. In other versions, he sees all the world's ailments in a single night. Either way, Gautama could never really return to the walled garden. As with all epics, he had set out on his quest; there was no turning back. His father would have a mendicant for a son, one who would, in a strange twist, become a sort of political leader, though that's rarely discussed.
Interestingly, Peterson never mentions the fact that Buddha himself becomes a deadbeat dad, leaving his family shortly after the birth of his son, Rāhula, who he named for being a "fetter." Buddha felt his son chained him to a life he no longer wanted to live. Just as his father created his neurosis, we have to wonder what became of Rāhula's psychological trauma.
2017 Maps of Meaning 10: Genesis and the Buddha
Yet we're not there yet. We're still on the second fateful night, when the future Buddha wishes to return home. His father instead instructs the driver to take Gautama to an orgy of women assembled exclusively for his usage. When he arrives, the prince can only contemplate death. The comfort of fleshly delights has been replaced with the knowledge of mortality.
Continuing alongside biblical parallelism, Peterson notes that the Bible is set up in the same manner as the Buddhist cycles: a garden, the collapse of ignorance, the journey, a return home — all four of Joseph Campbell's phases of mythology covered.
The question has now been asked: How to bring order out of chaos? The very problem civilizations repeatedly pursue. In biblical and Buddhist times, it centered on tribal conflicts; today, how to leave a planet we're quickly destroying — though we're certainly still consumed by our tribal battles as well. Millennia change little.
For Peterson, it begins and ends here: "Identification with the spirit that generates order out of chaos."
What does that spirit contain? That is still a question being asked, likely one that will be asked until we are no more. The Buddha offered his response in the form of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path that followed. What must change is not external realities, most of which we have little to no control over. What must change is your mindset.
Origin myths are telling as they reveal the path ahead. The story of Buddhism is rooted in a tale many of us live through: the mythos of overprotective parenting. While curiosity is part of our biological inheritance, the ability to cultivate stillness and practice composure is every situation leads to liberation. A timeless message, regardless of external circumstance.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
It's hard to stop looking back and forth between these faces and the busts they came from.
- A quarantine project gone wild produces the possibly realistic faces of ancient Roman rulers.
- A designer worked with a machine learning app to produce the images.
- It's impossible to know if they're accurate, but they sure look plausible.
How the Roman emperors got faced<a href="https://payload.cargocollective.com/1/6/201108/14127595/2K-ENGLISH-24x36-Educational_v8_WATERMARKED_2000.jpg" ><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTUzMzIxMX0.OwHMrgKu4pzu0eCsmOUjybdkTcSlJpL_uWDCF2djRfc/img.jpg?width=980" id="775ca" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="436000b6976931b8320313478c624c82" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="lineup of emperor faces" data-width="1440" data-height="963" /></a>
Credit: Daniel Voshart<p>Voshart's imaginings began with an AI/neural-net program called <a href="https://www.artbreeder.com" target="_blank">Artbreeder</a>. The freemium online app intelligently generates new images from existing ones and can combine multiple images into…well, who knows. It's addictive — people have so far used it to generate nearly 72.7 million images, says the site — and it's easy to see how Voshart fell down the rabbit hole.</p><p>The Roman emperor project began with Voshart feeding Artbreeder images of 800 busts. Obviously, not all busts have weathered the centuries equally. Voshart told <a href="https://www.livescience.com/ai-roman-emperor-portraits.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Live Science</a>, "There is a rule of thumb in computer programming called 'garbage in garbage out,' and it applies to Artbreeder. A well-lit, well-sculpted bust with little damage and standard face features is going to be quite easy to get a result." Fortunately, there were multiple busts for some of the emperors, and different angles of busts captured in different photographs.</p><p>For the renderings Artbreeder produced, each face required some 15-16 hours of additional input from Voshart, who was left to deduce/guess such details as hair and skin coloring, though in many cases, an individual's features suggested likely pigmentations. Voshart was also aided by written descriptions of some of the rulers.</p><p>There's no way to know for sure how frequently Voshart's guesses hit their marks. It is obviously the case, though, that his interpretations look incredibly plausible when you compare one of his emperors to the sculpture(s) from which it was derived.</p><p>For an in-depth description of Voshart's process, check out his posts on <a href="https://medium.com/@voshart/photoreal-roman-emperor-project-236be7f06c8f" target="_blank">Medium</a> or on his <a href="https://voshart.com/ROMAN-EMPEROR-PROJECT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>.</p><p>It's fascinating to feel like you're face-to-face with these ancient and sometimes notorious figures. Here are two examples, along with some of what we think we know about the men behind the faces.</p>
Caligula<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk4Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQ1NTE5NX0.LiTmhPQlygl9Fa9lxay8PFPCSqShv4ELxbBRFkOW_qM/img.jpg?width=980" id="7bae0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce795c554490fe0a36a8714b86f55b16" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Caligula, left
Nero<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NTAwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ2ODU0NX0.AgYuQZzRQCanqehSI5UeakpxU8fwLagMc_POH7xB3-M/img.jpg?width=980" id="a8825" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9e0593d79c591c97af4bd70f3423885e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Nero, left
Debating is cognitively taxing but also important for the health of a democracy—provided it's face-to-face.
- New research at Yale identifies the brain regions that are affected when you're in disagreeable conversations.
- Talking with someone you agree with harmonizes brain regions and is less energetically taxing.
- The research involves face-to-face dialogues, not conversations on social media.
There are two kinds of identity politics. One is good. The other, very bad. | Jonathan Haidt<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6f0e52833af5d35adab591bb92d79f8e"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/l-_yIhW9Ias?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Unsurprisingly, harmonious synchronization of brain states occurred when volunteers agreed, similar to <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322764116_Creativity_and_Flow_in_Surgery_Music_and_Cooking_An_Interview_with_Neuroscientist_Charles_Limb" target="_blank">group flow</a>—the coordination of brain waves that hip-hop and jazz musicians (among others) experience when performing together. Coordination exceeds the social, into the neurological. As the team writes, "talking during agreement was characterized by increased activity in a social and attention network including right supramarginal gyrus, bilateral frontal eye-fields, and left frontopolar regions."</p><p>This contrasts with argumentative behavior, in which "the frontoparietal system including bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, left supramarginal gyrus, angular gyrus, and superior temporal gyrus showed increased activity while talking during disagreement."</p><p>Senior author Joy Hirsch notes that our brain is essentially a social processing network. The evolutionary success of humans is thanks to our ability to coordinate. Dissonance is exhausting. Overall, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210113090938.htm" target="_blank">she says</a>, "it just takes a lot more brain real estate to disagree than to agree," comparing arguments to a symphony orchestra playing different music. </p><p>As the team notes, language, visual, and social systems are all dynamically intertwined inside of our brain. For most of history, yelling at one another in comment sections was impossible. Arguments had to occur the old-fashioned way: while staring at the source of your discontent. </p>
People of the "left-wing" side yell at a Trump supporter during a "Demand Free Speech" rally on Freedom Plaza on July 6, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Credit: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images<p>Leading us to an interesting question: do the same brain regions fire when you're screaming with your fingers on your Facebook feed? Given the lack of visual feedback from the person on the other side of the argument, likely not—as it is unlikely that many people would argue in the same manner when face-to-face with a person on the other side of a debate. We are generally more civil in real life than on a screen.</p><p>The researchers point out that seeing faces causes complex neurological reactions that must be interpreted in real-time. For example, gazing into someone's eyes requires higher-order processing that must be dealt with during the moment. Your brain coordinates to make sense of the words being spoken <em>and</em> pantomimes being witnessed. This combination of verbal and visual processes are "generally associated with high-level cognitive and linguistic functions."</p><p>While arguing is more exhausting, it also sharpens your senses—when a person is present, at least. Debating is a healthy function of society. Arguments force you to consider other viewpoints and potentially come to different conclusions. As with physical exercise, which makes you stronger even though it's energetically taxing, disagreement propels societies forward.</p>In this study, every participant was forced to <em>listen</em> to the other person. As this research was focused on live interactions, it adds to the literature of cognitive processing during live interactions and offers insights into the cognitive tax of anger. Even anger is a net positive when it forces both sides to think through their thoughts and feelings on a matter. As social animals, we need that tension in our lives in order to grow. Yelling into the void of a comments section? Not so helpful. <p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
In a joint briefing at the 101st American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting, NASA and NOAA revealed 2020's scorching climate data.
A dead heat<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ2MDU4Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNzM0MzIwNH0.3NrKDBoOdpFL5IXF3cDbom-Dp2RlrzJgvAciXcb0GDE/img.jpg?width=980" id="69d06" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="886a2617e756181e6a11e20a00b65dff" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1266" data-height="654" />
A graph showing the global mean temperatures from 1880–2020 (with the years 1951–1980 serving as the mean baseline).
Credit: NASA and NOAA<p>For <a href="https://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/" target="_blank">its 2020 analysis</a>, NASA gathered surface temperature measurements from more than 26,000 weather stations. This data was incorporated with data from satellites as well as sea-surface temperatures taken from ship and buoy instruments. Once tallied, NASA's data showed 2020 barely edged out 2016 as the warmest year on record, with average global temperatures 1.02°C (1.84°F) above the baseline mean (1951-1980).</p><p>In a separate analysis of the raw data, NOAA found 2020 to be slightly cooler than 2016. This distinction is the result of the different methodologies used in each—for example, NOAA uses a different baseline period (1901–2000) and does not infer temperatures in polar regions lacking observations. Together, these analyses put 2020 in a statistical dead heat with the sweltering 2016 and demonstrate the global-warming trend of the past four decades.</p><p>"The last seven years have been the warmest seven years on record, typifying the ongoing and dramatic warming trend," <a href="http://email.prnewswire.com/ls/click?upn=OXp-2BEvHp8OzhyU1j9bSWuwMvMWelqIco5RbfBrouY-2BQCsSv6FnrhBjR9xReGqV57KGOs0rVc5GKMmgs-2FJKbOzjb0sJ6yjzUvrv2w75ulYk3EUck8pSjkzYhoy5ADXO0eOcn7LDjqsHyK2gp2NRf2UysMK-2F9SN4oYUmRylQcRtSUo6-2FcYeK-2B9naUetByXNCR2gF8u_FU3lc-2FvIcVOtjb4iEuBVjFYoW0IRF5dtM-2FDfzzkhmYHO5IVgq387-2BxdHEMunBZ1-2Fy0-2BJDgXnZEYvN604G1TWJfy4M4HKnIouyasgRyWEHIYmPTiDXeFrd9FqRmsl0JQfksEElkp2ITvgyFkkivWV3GiFH7z7tl1cTZ2rNh2c-2FbCRKQxkH4-2BChgYT6uWeYOvXusiC4cDsZkEBvw7lOEdPsPq78JT8F5x5gc5cMRaRJY-2FZ8q8peaKsS7Mfc5OQ6yjyEU5YUHR4QKJ1Fn-2FDuwJ5jk4Gm28sxJZNXX9IEO-2FOHlhyRcJbl6rMWcoeJZDEd-2BM8UJ5ZY-2FYqc1DHevd1Mz-2B1fQ-3D-3D" target="_blank">Gavin Schmidt</a>, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210115103020.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said in a release</a>. "Whether one year is a record or not is not really that important—the important things are long-term trends. With these trends, and as the human impact on the climate increases, we have to expect that records will continue to be broken."</p><p>And they are. According to the analyses, 2020 was the warmest year on record for Asia and Europe, the second warmest for South America, the fourth warmest for Africa and Australia, and the tenth warmest for North America. </p><p>All told, 2020 was 1.19°C (2.14°F) above averages from the late-19<sup>th</sup> century, a period that provides a rough approximate for pre-industrial conditions. This temperature is closing in on the Paris Climate Agreement's preferred goal of <a href="https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreemen" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">limiting global warming to 1.5°C</a> of those pre-industrial conditions.</p>
2020's hotspot was—the Arctic?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ2MDU5My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMTA5OTU1MH0.0ZCixGwhHbjmyO6By_eaMI-cXrM2-rsPq32J-pAVWPs/img.jpg?width=980" id="34c94" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="846b12bfa65c6d1b8d0a5b0d0214e091" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1106" data-height="672" />
A map of global mean temperatures in 2020 shows an scorching year for the Arctic.
(Photo: NASA and NOAA)<p>Heatwaves have become more common all over the world, but a region that really endured the heat in 2020 was the <a href="https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/arctic-meteorology/climate_change.html#:~:text=Over%20the%20past%2030%20years,climate%20change%20in%20the%20Arctic." target="_blank">Arctic</a>.</p><p>"The big story this year is Siberia; it was a hotspot," Russell Vose, chief of the analysis and synthesis branch of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information, said during the briefing. "In May, some places were 18°F above the average. There was a town in Siberia […] that reported a high temperature of 104°F. If that gets verified by the World Metrological Organization, it will the first there's been a weather station in the Arctic with a temperature above 100°F."</p><p>The Arctic is warming at three times the global mean, thanks to <a href="https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/arctic-meteorology/climate_change.html#:~:text=Over%20the%20past%2030%20years,climate%20change%20in%20the%20Arctic." target="_blank">a phenomenon known as Arctic Amplification</a>. As the Arctic warms, it loses its sea ice, and this creates a feedback loop. The more Arctic sea ice loss, the more heat introduced into the oceans; the more heat introduced, the more sea ice loss. And the longer this trend continues, the more devastating the effects.</p><p>For example, since the 1980s, there's been a 50 percent decline in sea ice, and this loss has exposed more of the ocean to the sun's rays. That energy then gets trapped in the ocean as heat. As the <a href="https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-ocean-heat-content" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ocean heat content</a> rises, it threatens rising sea levels and the sustainability of natural ecosystems. In 2020 alone, 255 zeta joules of heat above the baseline were introduced into Earth's oceans. In (admittedly) dramatic terms, that's <a href="https://www.mprnews.org/story/2020/01/14/twin-cities-scientist-heat-of-5-to-6-hiroshima-atom-bombs-per-second-into-earths-oceans" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the equivalent of introducing 5 to 6 Hiroshima atom bombs</a> worth of energy every second of every day.</p><p>Looking beyond the Arctic, the average snow cover for the Northern Hemisphere was also the lowest on record. Like the Arctic sea ices, such <a href="https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/snow/climate.html#:~:text=Snow's%20effect%20on%20climate,especially%20the%20western%20United%20States." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">snow cover</a> helps regulate Earth's surface temperatures. Its melt off in the spring and summer also provides the freshwater ecosystems rely on to survive and farmers need to grow crops, especially in <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/too-many-trees?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2" target="_self">the Western United States</a>.</p>
Natural disasters get a man-made bump<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQ2MDU5NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MjUwMjE0Mn0.R_juvxCWUw-S9RDkAobjXeMn2qMHg-XVgsOHW74Uz-s/img.jpg?width=980" id="51830" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7b3e734e1d03eaec341dca40df0939f0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1123" data-height="672" />
A map of 2020's billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, which totaled approximately $95 billion in losses.
Credit: NASA and NOAA<p>2020 was also a record-breaking year for natural disasters. In the U.S. alone, there were 22 billion-dollar disasters, the most ever recorded. Combined, they resulted in a total of $95 billion in losses. The western wildfires alone consumed more than 10 million acres and destroyed large portions of Oregon, Colorado, and California.</p><p>The year also witnessed a record-setting Atlantic Hurricane season with more than 30 named storms, 13 of which were hurricanes. Typically, the World Meteorological Organization <a href="https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutnames_history.shtml#:~:text=Instead%20a%20strict%20procedure%20has,is%20repeated%20every%20sixth%20year." target="_blank">names storms</a> from an annual list of 21 selected names—one for each letter of the alphabet, minus Q, U, X, Y, and Z. For only <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/18/914453403/so-2020-new-storm-forms-named-alpha-because-weve-run-out-of-letters" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the second time in history</a>, the Organization had to resort to naming storms after Greek letters because they ran out of alphabet.</p>