WASHINGTON – Forest fires are bigger and start earlier in the year. Heat waves are more common. The seas are warmer and floods are more common. The air is getting hotter. Even the pollen season for ragweed starts earlier.
Climate change is already taking place in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency announced on Wednesday. In many cases this change is accelerating.
The freshly compiled data, the most comprehensive and up-to-date information from the federal government to date, shows this A warming world is making life difficult for Americans in ways that threaten their health and safety, homes and communities. And it is because the Biden government is trying to encourage aggressive action both domestically and abroad to reduce the pollution that is raising global temperatures.
“There is no small town, city or rural community that has not been affected by the climate crisis,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan on Wednesday. “Americans see and feel the effects at close range with increasing regularity.”
The data released on Wednesday came after a four-year hiatus. Until 2016, the EPA had regularly updated its climate indicators. But under President Donald J. Trump, who repeatedly questioned whether the planet was warming, the data was frozen in time. It was available on the agency’s website but was not kept up to date.
The Biden government revived efforts this year and added some new measures by pulling information from government agencies, universities, and other sources. The EPA used 54 separate indicators which together paint a bleak picture.
It reveals everything from Lyme disease, which is becoming more common in some states as a warming climate expands the regions where deer ticks can survive, to the growing drought in the southwest that threatens the availability of drinking water, the likelihood of Forest fires increased but also reduced the ability to generate electricity from hydropower.
According to Katharine Hayhoe, a climate researcher at Texas Tech University, the EPA data can help people understand the changes they are already experiencing in their daily lives. This is especially useful because many Americans view climate change as a problem affecting other people or more remote parts of the world, she said.
“Having relevant indicators is a really important way of showing people that the climate is already changing, and it’s changing in ways that affect you,” said Dr. Hayhoe. “It helps us to relate climate change to our lived experience.”
The new data shows that temperatures are rising and that rise is accelerating. Since 1901, surface temperatures in the lower 48 states have increased an average of 0.16 degrees Fahrenheit in every decade. Since the late 1970s, this rate has increased to as much as half a degree per decade.
The rise was even more pronounced in Alaska. In parts where average temperatures have risen by more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1925, this has an impact on permafrost: In 14 of 15 locations, permafrost temperatures rose between 1978 and 2020.
Scientists say the world must prevent global average temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avoid irreversible damage to the planet.
With rising surface temperatures, heat waves have become more common. Since the 1960s, the frequency of heat waves in major US cities has tripled from two to six per year, according to the new data. And the nights get hotter, making it difficult for plants, animals and people to cool off.
Rising temperatures also affect the ice level. The new data determine that the extent of Arctic sea ice cover in 2020 was the second smallest on record. At the same time, the oceans are getting warmer and will reach a record high in 2020.
This combination of melting polar ice and rising water temperatures is causing sea levels to rise along the east coast and the Gulf coast. In some places the sea level in relation to the land rose by more than 20 cm between 1960 and 2020.
As the seas rise, floods become more frequent. The number of days water inundated communities along the east and Gulf coasts has increased, and the rate of these floods is accelerating, the data shows. In many places, “floods are at least five times more common today than they were in the 1950s,” according to the EPA
Rising temperatures also make forest fires worse. The amount of land burned each year is increasing and the forest fire season is getting longer.
In addition to updating metrics, the latest version of EPA’s climate indicators adds new data types. Below that is the surface of the glaciers in Glacier National Park, Mont., Which shrank by a third between 1966 and 2015.
“These measurements either set records or are well above historical averages,” said Michael Kolian, environmental scientist at the agency, who presented some of the new data.
Since taking office, President Biden has made climate action a top priority throughout the federal government. He has brought the United States back to the Paris Agreement, hosted a virtual climate summit of world leaders on Earth Day, and pledged to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by the end of the decade.
Kristina Dahl, a senior climate researcher at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the EPA can take its data collection even further and track not only the physical effects of climate change, but what those effects mean for disasters.
For example, she said the EPA could show the number of people forced to leave their homes each year due to hurricanes in the United States, or the number of people seeking help with rebuilding.
While Dr. Dahl applauded the Biden administration for updating and expanding their climate data, saying the work that matters is changing these trends.
“It is a minimum that this type of data is regularly updated and made available to the public,” said Dr. Dahl. “We have a very long, uphill road ahead of us to actually enact policies that make change.”