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Palm trees in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which would suffer tremendously under a "new climate regime" if global temperatures warm to 2°C. (Photo: Eustaquio Santimano/flickr/cc)

Enjoying the Weather? Just Wait a Few Years.

Research shows most Americans prefer the milder winters caused by climate change, but scorching temps and disastrous weather events are looming

Nika Knight Beauchamp

New research shows that most Americans prefer the warmer winters they've been experiencing in recent decades as a result of climate change, particularly since the milder winter temperatures haven't been accompanied by more scorching summers.

That's about to change, scientists say.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Nature, found that "80 percent of Americans live in counties that are experiencing more pleasant weather than they did four decades ago. Virtually all Americans are now experiencing the much milder winters that they typically prefer, and these mild winters have not been offset by markedly more uncomfortable summers or other negative changes."

A climate scientist not involved in the study hypothesized that the "population may have been lulled into complacency when it comes to the impacts of climate change by the fact that perceived weather conditions have improved with the moderate warming of the past century."

"Americans experienced pronounced winter warming between 1974 and 2013: a regression of daily maximum January temperatures on year estimated a population-weighted average increase of 0.58°C per decade," the study found, while "daily maximum July temperatures rose by only 0.07°C per decade."

"Climate change models predict that this trend is temporary, however," the researchers say, and summers in the U.S. will soon outpace winters in terms of warming.

By the end of the century, 88 percent of Americans will be experiencing what they perceive to be worsening weather, the study found.

The predicted worsening of America's weather will likely have ramifications on policy, as "public concern may rise once people's everyday experiences of climate change effects start to become less pleasant," the researchers wrote.

The U.S. is one of the world's worst emitters of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, and so American policy plays a critical role in global efforts to combat a rapidly warming planet.

But a change in public sentiment by 2100 may not come soon enough to save the planet. Another study released Thursday in the journal Earth System Dynamics found that the difference between warming of 2°C as opposed to 1.5°C will herald "a shift into a new, more dangerous climate regime," as the Guardian writes, while other research shows that we may be on track to warm the planet more than 3°C if we do not take drastic action.

The Paris climate accord, which nations are to sign on Friday, sets out a plan to keep global warming "well below" 2°C. But the agreement doesn't go far enough to keep its promise, some say: a recent analysis showed that full implementation of the deal's "current pledges would result in expected warming by 2100 of 3.5°C (6.3°F)—far past the consensus threshold," as Common Dreams reported.

The study in Earth System Dynamics showed that warming of 2°C as opposed to 1.5°C would result in extended heatwaves, declining crop yields, dying coral, and long droughts. Island nations argued during the COP21 negotiations that a global shift of 2°C would drown their countries.

"For heat-related extremes," the study found, "the additional 0.5°C marks the difference between events at the upper limit of present-day natural variability and a new climate regime, particularly in tropical regions."

The Guardian reports:

The analysis found that regional dry spells increased by 7 percent with 1.5°C of warming but by 11 percent with 2°C, while sea level rises by 10cm more in the hotter scenario. Some regions would be more affected than others with, for example, water availability in the Mediterranean falling by 9 percent under 1.5C of warming but 17 percent under 2°C.

"In a [2°C] scenario, virtually all tropical coral reefs are projected to be at risk of severe degradation due to temperature-induced bleaching from 2050 onwards," a researcher told the Guardian. Coral reefs "provide vital nurseries for many fish on which people rely on for food," the newspaper points out.

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is already all but destroyed by a massive bleaching event caused by today's climate conditions, as Common Dreams reported.

As global temperature records continued to be shattered with every successive month, the need to study the ramifications of such warming grows more urgent.

"Some researchers have argued that there is little difference in climate change impacts between 1.5°C and 2°C," one of the climate scientists who authored the study told the Guardian. But this study shows that the difference is stark, and a 0.5°C shift could mean life or death—particularly for people in tropical regions who will suffer the most from months-long droughts, heatwaves, and failures of their crops and fisheries.

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