A lifetime ago — when baby boomers were just kids — nothing could be more mundane or “politically safe” than talking about the weather. My how times have changed.
Climate change has made talk about the weather and the planet we live on politically radioactive. A new Environmental Protection Agency report released today just adds more evidence — for those who believe — to the growing problem that the Earth’s temperature is rising, and human consumption of fossil fuel is largely to blame. For climate change deniers, it will be more of the same — overhyping a make-believe problem.
Either way, the report should become fuel for political debate ahead of the November elections.
The Climate Change Indicators in the United States report includes 37 climate indicators, measuring U.S. and global temperatures, the sea level, ocean acidity, droughts, river flooding and wildfires.
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Heat trapping greenhouse gases produced when fossil fuels are burned have been decreasing in the U.S. since 2005. But worldwide, they have increased by 35 percent from 1990 to 2010. “Emissions of carbon dioxide, which account for about three-fourths of total emissions, increased by 42 percent over this period,” the report said.
Average U.S. and global temperatures continue to rise. All of the top 10 warmest years on record worldwide have been since 1998.
“Nationwide, unusually hot summer days (highs) have become more common over the last few decades,” the report said. “Unusually hot summer nights (lows) have become more common at an even faster rate.
“This trend indicates less ‘cooling off’ at night. Although the United States has experienced many winters with unusually low temperatures, unusually cold winter temperatures have become less common — particularly very cold nights (lows).”
The report notes more rainfall over land in the U.S. and other parts of the world. Often it falls in “intense single-day events.”
“However, shifting weather patterns have caused certain areas, such as the Southwest, to experience less precipitation than usual,” the report said.
Flooding is a problem. It has become more of a concern across parts of the Northeast and Midwest and less so in the West, southern Appalachia and northern Michigan.
“Large floods have become more frequent across the Northeast, Pacific Northwest and parts of the northern Great Plains, and less frequent in the Southwest and the Rockies,” the report said.
Droughts now are a major problem. From 2000 to 2015, “20 to 70 percent of the U.S. land area experienced conditions that were at least abnormally dry at any given time.”
The ocean temperature has increased since 1950. The report said “sea surface temperatures have been consistently higher during the past three decades than at any other time since reliable observations began in the late 1800s.”
Sea levels when averaged over all of the world’s oceans, have risen “at a rate of roughly six-tenths of an inch per decade since 1880.” That varies from place to place. But coastal flooding has become an increasing problem.
“The Mid-Atlantic region suffers the highest number of coastal flood days and has also experienced the largest increases in flooding,” the report says. Oceans also have become more acidic because of increased levels of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel consumption. The gas dissolves in the water, threatening the survival of some marine life.
Glaciers are shrinking, and polar ice continues to melt at a rapid rate. Snowfall has decreased in most of the U.S. “One reason for this decline is that nearly 80 percent of the locations studied have seen more winter precipitation fall in the form of rain instead of snow,” the report said.
Growing seasons have increased, but so have wildfires. Birds are shifting their migration habits because of climate change.
The EPA report comes out as the presidential and other races are heating up ahead of the November election. Let’s hope more candidates take the climate change warnings seriously and increase efforts to curb greenhouse gas production with an accompanying acceleration in U.S. reliance on solar, wind, geothermal and other green energy.