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July was the hottest month on record for the contiguous United States dating back to 1895, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Aug. 8, a finding that triggered new calls for action to curb climate change.
July's average temperature, at 77.6 degrees Fahrenheit, exceeded the previous record set in July 1936, and the last 12 months have been the warmest 12 months since modern temperature data collection began 118 years ago, according to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. The average national temperature in July across the lower 48 states was 3.3 degrees F above the 20th century average for the month, NOAA said.
The temperature increase was particularly evident in the Great Plains, Midwest, and along the East Coast, and 32 states recorded July temperatures that were among the 10 warmest in their history, according to NOAA.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told attendees at a Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas on Aug. 7 that there is overwhelming evidence linking rising temperatures to human activities such as combustion of fossil fuels, and said it is time for skeptics of climate science, whether in Congress, the media, or academia, “to stop acting like those who ignore the crisis or deny it exists entirely have a valid point of view. They don't.”
Rep. Ed Markey (Mass.), ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said the temperature data illustrate the need for Congress to tackle climate change through support of renewable energy, such as extension of the Production Tax Credit for wind power, which is set to expire at the end of year. “It's time for Republicans to their opposition to extending the Production Tax Credit and start working to blow out global warming with clean wind power,” Markey said in an Aug. 8 press statement.
NOAA's report on record-setting July temperatures also was only the latest confirmation of widespread drought reported in the Midwest and Central Plains, and alternatively, wetter-than-average conditions in other states such as California and in Southwestern states and several along the western Gulf Coast.
Many scientists have linked rising global temperatures to an increasing number, and increasing severity, of extreme weather events including drought, floods, and wildfires, which NOAA said have consumed more than 2 million acres in July, the fourth highest total of acreage lost to fire since 2000.
Reid said that “virtually every respected, independent scientist in the world agrees the problem is real, and the time to act is now,” according to his prepared remarks. “Not tomorrow. Not a week from now. Not next month or next year,” the Senate leader said. “We must act today.”
The one-day summit was held in Las Vegas by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and other groups.
But Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a longtime skeptic about climate science, noted that Reid offered few policy specifics in his remarks--other than promoting renewable energy and urging consumers to conserve energy--and that it was under Reid that the Democratic-controlled Senate abandoned a House-passed cap-and-trade bill in 2010.
“Senator Reid hasn't brought a cap-and-trade bill to the floor since 2008,” Inhofe said Aug. 7, and the majority leader himself has noted in the past that he is unlikely to move such a measure forward due to widespread opposition.
Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, squared off with Democrats at an Aug. 1 hearing that was meant to provide senators with an update on recent research on rising global temperatures and reports linking increased warming to a rise in the number and severity of extreme weather events.
One researcher, James McCarthy, a biological oceanography professor at Harvard University, said at the hearing that increased melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice will cause sea level to rise well beyond the 12 inches to 24 inches by 2100 predicted by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2007 report.
McCarthy said researchers who have plugged in newer “glacier discharge rates” reflecting a recent surge in the melting of the Greenland ice sheets are now projecting sea levels are likely to rise between 2.5 feet and 6.5 feet by the end of the century (148 DER A-29, 8/2/12).
By Dean Scott
The NOAA National Climatic Data Center temperature and precipitation data for July 2012 is available at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/national/2012/7.
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