By David Freeman
New government data on temperatures around the world offers cold comfort to those who hope that global warming is on the wane. The data, released on Wednesday by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows that 2018 was the fourth-hottest year since 1880, the earliest year for which reliable global temperature data is available.
The three hottest years on record were 2015, 2016 and 2017.
“In fact, the warmest five years in the record are just the last five years,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, and one of the experts who described the new data in a Wednesday morning press briefing, told NBC News MACH in an email before the event. “The long-term trends toward warmer temperatures are clear and continuing.”
The average global surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) since the 1880s, NASA data showed. NOAA, which uses different baselines and analyzes the data differently, found that global temperatures in 2018 were 1.42 degrees F (0.79 degrees C) above the 20th century average.
Experts say high temperatures are also beginning to exact a number of societal costs, including reduced labor productivity and disruptions of the food supply, along with health problems ranging from a longer, more intense allergy season to an increased incidence of insect-borne diseases.
“Society might not collapse in the next few decades due to climate change, but we are learning more and more about what it will look like,” Amir Jina, an environmental economist at the University of Chicago, said in an email. As days get hotter, he said, people “use more energy to cool … work less, and are less effective at work, and food production, especially in the eastern half of the country, can see yield declines of around 50 percent” by the end of the century.
*Note: A previous version of this article misquoted Amir Jina. It has since been updated.
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