How temperatures have changed since the first Earth Day

Published: Apr. 22, 2020 at 9:26 PM CDT
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This year was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day! Did you know Earth Day originated right here in Wisconsin? It was all thanks to one time Governor, and then Senator, Gaylord Nelson in 1970.

With the global response to COVID-19, it’s clear that we really are all connected on one Earth. Today’s global impacts foreshadow the accelerating and compounding hazards that climate change poses to our health, economy, and ways of life. But current events also show what our world can do when we work together to solve an issue, using the power of science-based guidance—both at the individual and collective levels.

Earth Day’s 50th anniversary is a fitting time for these reflections. On the first Earth Day in 1970, involvement from 20 million people paved the way for cleaner air, cleaner water, and more protected land. If similar efforts reduced human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, we could “flatten the curve” of rising temperatures as well.

New data from our partners at Climate Central show temperature trends aren’t flattening yet. Since the first Earth Day, Madison has seen an average temperature climb of 2.8 degrees. Across the country as a whole, the average temperature climbed by an average of 2.4 degrees. Temperatures have risen in 98% of the 242 cities analyzed, while the contiguous U.S. has warmed 2.4°F in those 50 years. Reno, Nev. leads this year’s cities with an increase of 7.4°F, followed by Las Vegas, Nev. (5.5°F) and El Paso, Texas (4.8°F). Many of the fastest-warming cities are in the Southwest, where spring is also the fastest-warming season.

METHODOLOGY: Average annual temperature from the Applied Climate Information System. Trends are based on a mathematical linear trend line, beginning in 1970 for consistency between stations. Reno, Nev. was included this year after consulting with Nevada’s state climatologist. Only 242 of our 244 stations are included in summary statements due to large data gaps in St. Johnsbury, Vt. and Wheeling, W. Va.

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