Since the first Earth Day 44 years ago, average temperatures have been rising across the globe—and they're going up even faster in the continental United States, according to records from the National Climatic Data Center. The change wouldn’t be enough for you to notice if you were, say, comparing the weather today with how warm you (or your mom) felt during those mass sit-ins in 1970. But the atmosphere has noticed. And the ocean. And the crops. And forests.
We should all know by now that when it comes to climate, a few degrees can go a long way. The world’s top climatologists warn that allowing an average global temperature rise of a mere 2° Celsius (about 3.6°F) "would be disastrous." So it is troubling to think that average temps in the two fastest-warming U.S. states—Delaware and Wisconsin—are 3°F higher than they were four decades ago. Vermont, New Jersey, and Michigan are right behind them, and all of the Lower 48 are heating up faster or just as fast as the rest of the planet. Overall, the average temp for the continental U.S. has gone up 0.48°F per decade since 1970.
Thanks to this infographic, you can see how your state is faring. The Climate Central report "The Heat Is On" cites natural variability and air pollution (which can sometimes block solar radiation) as possible explanations for why some parts of the globe are warming more quickly than others. But remember, it's the big climate trends that are the most telling when it comes to deciphering how carbon pollution affects the biosphere. This NASA video from 2011 shows how average global surface temperatures have risen since 1880.
In the coming decades, different regions will experience various extremes from global warming, be it sea-level rise, drought, hurricanes, or wildfires. But the latest report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assures us everyone on Earth will feel its impact—if they aren’t already. So on this Earth Day and the next, remember it’s not just about saving trees or pandas (though that’s cool, too). It’s about saving ourselves.
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