North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia each logged its warmest year on record in 2017, extending a trend of above-average annual temperatures, according to new federal data released Thursday.
Most scientists blame rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gasses for the warming trend, which is expected to continue as political resistance builds against domestic and international efforts to curb man-made climate change.
Last year’s average annual temperature for the contiguous United States was 54.6 degrees Farenheit, the third-warmest on record and 2.6 degrees higher than the 20th century’s average temperature of 52 degrees, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual national climate report.
North Carolina’s average temperature of 61.1 degrees in 2017 was the warmest since 1990 and 2.6 degrees warmer than its 20th century average temperature, the report found.
Congressman David Price, a North Carolina Democrat, said the trend portends bouts of coastal flooding, beach erosion and other problems, particularly on the Outer Banks.
“I’d say by any measure we’re going to be one of the states that’s going to see the most severe effects soonest, especially the exposed nature of our eastern shore,” Price said Thursday on Capitol Hill.
Georgia’s 65.8-degree average temperature was 2.4 degrees higher than its 20th-century average. South Carolina saw a 65.1-degree average temperature last year, and that was 2.7 degrees higher than it averaged throughout the last century.
Despite opposing views of the problem, Republicans and Democrats in South Carolina have begun to work collectively on climate change, said Blan Holman, Charleston-based managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. Holman said South Carolina’s Republican Governor Henry McMaster has convened a climate change task force and state GOP leaders support efforts to expand low-carbon energy and solar energy.
“I think there’s a recognition across the political spectrum that the risks that ongoing and accelerating climate change pose to our economy and wellbeing is a very serious matter that requires pragmatic approaches," Holman said.
Nationally, 2017 marked the 21st straight year that the nation’s average temperature was warmer-than-average, the report said.
In addition to Arizona and New Mexico, which also had record-high average temperatures last year, 32 other states posted average annual temperatures that ranked among their 10 warmest ever.
Greenhouse gases allow short-wave radiation from the sun to enter the earth’s atmosphere, but block infrared, or long-wave radiation, from escaping. That so-called “greenhouse effect” traps the sun’s radiation and warms the earth’s surface beyond what would occur naturally.
Some, however, disagree about how much influence humans have on climate change. While as a businessman, Donald Trump cited climate change in a building proposal, as president he has joined other Republicans in openly challenging the widely accepted science.
Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow at the conservative Heartland Institute, disputed the report's claim that 2017 was the third-warmest year on record and that the last 21 years have had above-average temperatures.
Burnett, of Rowlett, Texas, accused NOAA of cherry-picking the data. He said the NOAA data includes the 1960s and 70s, when temperatures were below historic averages. Those cooler temperatures make later warmer weather appear more dramatic than it would otherwise, he said. And he said several years in the 1930s — before NOAA existed — had warmer average temperatures than the three warmest years that NOAA identified.
He acknowledged that U.S. temperatures have been rising. “The question is whether humans are causing that change. And I don't think we can make that attribution yet," Burnett said.
In November, Trump — who called climate change a hoax perpetrated by China, withdrew the United States from the Paris agreement on climate change, which calls for pledges from participating countries to cut their carbon dioxide emissions.
Price, of North Carolina, said Trump’s decision to withdraw from that pact was a mistake.
“We’ll do our best to mitigate the effects of Trump’s orders, but we need to reverse them,” Price said. “We need to get back on track with the international agreement.”
The new climate-change data might bolster supporters of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 600-mile project that would move fracked natural gas from West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina. Natural gas burns cleaner with less carbon dioxide emissions than coal and other energy sources.
But Holman, of the law center, said better energy conservation and wider use of solar energy would reduce greenhouse gas even more than increased natural gas usage.
Reporter Brian Murphy contributed to this report.