Things are heating up

The year 2020 will go down in history as one of the warmest years on record in Maine and elsewhere around the country. It is part of a larger warming trend that has taken place over the last 10 years with record-breaking conditions giving way to extreme weather. 

From droughts and wildfires in the western part of the country to extreme precipitation and the propensity for hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, the consequences of a changing climate are already here and foreshadow more to come. 

Caribou since 2000 has experienced seven of its 10 warmest years on record. In November, the northern Maine city reached 75 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that not only shattered the previous daily high for November, but also rivaled normal July temperatures. Similarly, Portland also broke its own record 18 times last summer for daily high temperatures. 

On Aug. 14, the Gulf of Maine recorded its single hottest day of the 2020 summer. At 69.85 degrees Fahrenheit, it was a full degree warmer than the previous record set in 2012, posing problems for marine life and water quality. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute found that marine heatwaves, defined as five or more consecutive days where temperatures are higher than 90 percent of the same calendar days during a 30-year baseline period, have been present at least 81 days a year since 2010.  

On top of all that, Maine had a dry summer. Grass turned brown as scant amounts of rain could not replenish underlying aquifers. Farmers struggled to water their crops. And there is plenty of brown grass this winter, too, with no snow to cover it.

A lack of sustained cold has obvious implications for outdoor activities as fewer lakes freeze and snow falls less often. Many Mainers have likely noticed that winter ice conditions have been less and less favorable over the past few years, resulting in the cancellation of ice fishing derbies and a reduction of safe ice days overall. 

One warm year can happen, but sustained warming is cause for alarm. 

Even though greenhouse gas emissions have dropped globally during the pandemic, long-term solutions are imperative. Maine has set ambitious climate goals and it will be challenging, although not impossible, to meet them. Amid an emergency, it may seem easier to kick the can down the road. But global warming is an emergency that predates the current one and our children will inherit the burden. We owe them bold action and innovation. In this, we cannot afford a return to normal. We must do more.

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