Many consider global warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius a critical threshold. World leaders who signed the 2015 Paris climate accords used it as a benchmark of success. Scientists warn virtually all the world’s coral reefs will disappear should we cross that point.
But in many places in the United States, average temperatures have already climbed near — or even past — that mark. These places, where average global temperatures are approaching or have even gone beyond 2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial Revolution levels, count as among the fastest-warming places on Earth, The Post's Steven Mufson, Chris Mooney, Juliet Eilperin and John Muyskens report.
The Post team analyzed more than a century of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration temperature data across the country and found a number of 2C hot spots in the United States. The places where this new normal has set in offer a preview of what the rest of the world may look like when rapid climate change upends economies and ecosystems. Over the past century, the Earth has warmed 1 degree Celsius. The average warming in the Lower 48 U.S. states is similar.
The fastest-warming part of the country is Alaska. The nation's only state in the Arctic, a region where air temperatures are rising twice as fast as temperatures in lower latitudes, has seen more than 2 million acres go up in flames this year as firefighters struggle to contain wildfires and as meteorologists see temperature records shattered. Thawing permafrost is destabilizing roads and buildings and threatened to release even more locked-up greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
In the Lower 48, Rhode Island is the first state where average temperatures rose beyond 2 degrees Celsius. Off the Ocean State's coast, the lobster catch has dropped 75 percent over the past two decades as the crustaceans seek cooler water to the north. The world's rising sea levels, which may be driven even higher in Rhode Island by changes in the Atlantic's Gulf Stream, are already forcing some beachfront businesses and homeowners, such as those in a private community called Roy Carpenter's Beach, to move their buildings back from the water.
Winter temperatures in the rest of the Northeast, except for Pennsylvania, have risen by 2 degrees Celsius since the winter of 1895-1896. New Jersey falls only a little bit shy of Rhode Island — and the 2C mark — for the entire year.
Residents along New Jersey's Lake Hopatcong, which in the 1920s produced massive blocks of ice for New York City's iceboxes, have had to cancel 11 of the past 12 ice fishing contests over concerns about thin ice. Average temperatures in Somerset Country, N.J., the country with the lake, have risen 2.2 degrees Celsius. Resident in Manhattan have seen that same increase since the late 1800s.
In Southern California, temperatures in Los Angeles County and the four counties surrounding it has risen on average 2.1 degrees Celsius since 1895. In the Mojave Desert, bird populations have collapsed during that period as the region deals with less rainfall, according to University of California at Berkeley research. The populous region's city dwellers, meanwhile, have to contend with the threat of drought-fueled wildfires in recent years, including one last year that destroyed hundreds of homes in Malibu.
Some less populated, higher-altitude parts of the country have already crossed the 2-degree threshold, too. They include Oregon's high desert region and in the Rocky Mountains in eastern Utah and western Colorado. The latter forms the Upper Basin of the Colorado River, which provides water to major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas. Drought and overuse are drying up that crucial river system.
There is also a stretch of counties from Montana to Michigan near the U.S.-Canadian border and along the Great Lakes shoreline that has also warmed significantly since the beginning of the 20th century.
Higher average temperatures in Michigan's Leelanau and Benzie counties, which each have surpassed 2.2 degrees Celsius, have extended growing seasons in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which in turn have been a boon for mosquitoes, biting flies and invasive species, according to the National Park Service. And in Montana's Glacier County, where temperatures have risen 1.8 degrees Celsius since the late 1800s, the namesake masses of ice of Glacier National Park have “dramatically reduced” in size since 1966, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
For all the rising temperatures, there is one part of the country that has not warmed significantly since 1895. It's the Deep South, especially Mississippi and Alabama. A combination of atmospheric cycles driven by the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and particle pollution from cars and factories have contributed to modest cooling in some counties in the already balmy region.
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— Trump administration rolls back endangered species protections: The Interior and Commerce secretaries have finalized a set of rule changes that would weaken wildlife protections under the bedrock Endangered Species Act. Here's what's changing:
- Economic considerations: Language was slashed that required that officials depend on "the best scientific and commercial information" when determining when to list species as threatened or endangered regardless of the economic impact, The Post’s Darryl Fears reports. With the change, top wildlife managers will be able to consider the economic impact of a listing and impacts on business opportunities and other economic effects “can now be factored by the government and shared with the public.”
- Critical habitat: The changes will also enable the administration to decrease the number of habitats set aside for species, and will remove tools used to predict how climate change will affect wildlife. “The new rules would also limit the area of land that can be protected to help species recover and survive. Currently, land that plants and animals occupy is set aside for their protection, in addition to areas that they once occupied or might need in the future,” Fears writes. “Now, critical habitat that is not occupied might not be protected, opening it up for oil and gas exploration or other forms of development.”
The backlash begins: While the Trump administration released a list of praise from numerous Republican lawmakers from Western states, Xavier Becerra and Maura Healey, the attorneys general of California and Massachusetts, declared the changes illegal and vowed to challenge them in court, with other states prosecutors expected to join. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said the Trump administration “issued regulations that take a wrecking ball to one of our oldest and most effective environmental laws. He is considering trying to use the Congressional Review Act to revoke the regulation.
— The collision course continues over car rules: The Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for reducing penalties for automakers that fail to meet Obama-era fuel economy standards. The lawsuit follows a similar complaint filed by 13 attorneys general. “With today’s filing, we are again challenging an Administration that attempts to give away polluting passes left and right. There should be no question that automakers who lag behind on meeting standards that require them by law to make their vehicles more fuel efficient should pay the repercussions,” Sierra Club attorney Alejandra Núñez said in a statement.
Correction: An earlier version of this newsletter mischaracterized the lawsuit filed by two environmental groups. The lawsuit is challenging the rule that lowers penalties for automakers that fail to meet the Obama administration’s fuel efficiency standards.
— A water crisis in Newark: Officials in New Jersey's largest city have started handing out water bottles to residents amid ongoing problems with high levels of lead in the tap water. The city began dealing with these high lead levels two years ago – in the fall, it began to distribute tens of thousands of water filters to residents, The Post’s Brady Dennis and Clare Fieseler report. “Tests in recent days showed that the water filters the city provided to residents might not be adequately blocking lead, according to federal and local officials,” they write. “The findings prompted Peter Lopez, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional administrator who oversees New Jersey, to write to [Newark Mayor Ras Baraka] and New Jersey’s top environmental official on Friday, saying it was ‘essential’ that officials warn residents of the findings and begin providing bottled water ‘as soon as possible’ to people whose homes have lead service lines.”
— Asian carp could find food in Great Lakes: The invasive Asian carp could find enough nutrient options to survive and spread in Lake Michigan, even with a decrease in plankton in locations where the fish often feed, according to a new paper. “Prolific breeders and voracious eaters, the invaders compete with native fish for food and habitat … Authorities have long debated how to keep them out of the Great Lakes, where fishing is a $7 billion industry,” the Associated Press reports. “Democratic Sen. Gary Peters and Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga, both from Michigan, said the study ramps up pressure on Congress to fund programs that protect the lakes from the carp.”
— A new striking extreme in the Arctic: Multiple lightning strikes were detected over the weekend within 300 miles of the North Pole, a rare event that prompted the National Weather Service to issue a public information statement. The storms come amid an extreme summer with above-average temperature conditions across the Arctic Ocean, The Post’s Andrew Freedman reports. “The vast majority of Earth’s thunderstorms occur at lower latitudes, where the combination of higher temperatures and humidity more easily sparks such weather phenomena,” he writes. “However, as Alaska and other parts of the Arctic have warmed in response to human-caused global climate change, there is evidence that thunderstorms are starting earlier in the year and are extending to areas that didn’t used to see many such events, such as Alaska’s North Slope.”
— AccuWeather chief questions link between climate change and heat waves: In an essay published last week, AccuWeather chief executive Joel Myers cast doubt on scientific findings related to the heat waves that had scorched two thirds of the United States in recent days. “[A]lthough average temperatures have been higher in recent years, there is no evidence so far that extreme heat waves are becoming more common because of climate change, especially when you consider how many heat waves occurred historically compared to recent history,” Myers wrote.
The problem: His point of view is "at odds with peer-reviewed research" and "is reminiscent of the contrarian position AccuWeather took on the climate change issue in the 1990s, which historical documents recently obtained by The Washington Post shine light on,” The Post’s Jason Samenow and Andrew Freedman wrote. Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the company said the essay was meant to focus on “the frequency and danger of recent heat waves, not climate change or its causes” and she pointed to a recent story in which Myers said there is “no question the climate is changing and part of it is due to humans.”
- The Atlantic Council hosts the Veterans Advanced Energy Summit in Chicago.
— Oh, yeah!: A black bear slipped into a northern Colorado house through an unlocked door. But when police officers arrived on the scene, the bear found another exit. The bear “forcibly breached a hole in the wall like the ‘Kool-Aid Man’ and made its escape,” the Estes Park Police said in a Facebook post.