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 conditions.
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 unsettling—literally and figuratively.
In Caribou, seven of its 10 warmest years have taken place since 2000. In November, Caribou reached 75 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that not only shattered the previous daily high for November, but one that also rivaled a normal July temperature most years. 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 pervious 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.
The rising temperatures on both land and sea have also been coupled with a lack of precipitation further exacerbating the problems. All summerlong, grass turned brown as scant amounts of rain struggled to replenish underlying aquafers. Many parts of the state have experienced extreme drought conditions year after year, making farming more difficult and speeding up the warming of the water.
While increased temperatures can lead to many slow and nuanced changes in the environment, a lack of sustained cold can have 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 canceling of ice fishing derbies and a reduction of safe ice days overall.
One warm year can happen, but sustained warming is cause for concern.
It is time to tackle climate change head on by putting in place strong regulations that cap greenhouse gases and reduce the creation of environmental toxins. Over the past year as we’ve gone deeper into a pandemic, we have only increased our reliance on single-use plastics at a time when many states, like Maine, were on the cusp of banning items such as Styrofoam and disposable plastic bags.
While it may be easier to kick the can down the road and continue to delay the implementation of plastic bag and polystyrene bans, the consequences to future generations will undoubtedly be grave. We owe it to them to radically change our approach to the environment and to the climate before it is too late.