According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2012 was the hottest year on record in the contiguous United States, and even one degree Fahrenheit warmer than 1998 the previous record-holder. The year 2012 was marked with enormous dry spells, epic droughts in the farm belt, and 11 disasters each totaling more than $1 billion in losses including Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy. You would think that all of this would result in more action on climate change, but it largely hasn’t. Sadly, you can toss this into the grand dustbin of science that’s conveniently ignored by Washington, D.C.
By now, record-breaking temperatures and extreme weather events are nothing new. Scientists have been warning of increases in average global temperatures for over a decade. In fact, nine of the ten warmest years since 1880 occurred after 2000. If 2012 is any indication, don’t expect this trend to change any time soon.
Quite the opposite. The last time the world saw a colder-than-average month occurred some 27 years ago. In other words, temperatures haven’t been cooler than anticipated since Ronald Reagan was still president. Scientists are more alarmed now about rising temperatures than they have been before. This is primarily because models predicting the speed of Arctic sea ice melting are proving to be too optimistic, and yet global warming denial remains strong.
But nothing is scarier than realizing that all of the science is falling on deaf ears — at least in terms of action. When announcing this new report, NOAA Director Thomas Karl warned that 2012’s new record is “clearly symptomatic of a changing climate” and that Americans for the first time are now able to see sustained warmth over the course of this lifetime. Think about that when you hear the biggest issues Congress may be tackling right now are the fiscal cliff, Hurricane Sandy relief aid, and gun control. Surely, all three are important, but nobody will be talking about them in thirty years the way they will about global warming if we don’t get a handle on it now.
Odder still, two of the three hottest congressional items are related to climate change, but there’s no talk of that in the halls of Congress. Though no single hurricane can be directly attributed to global warming, we know that stronger and more intense natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy are becoming the norm because of it. We can play catch-up by offering relief aid after disasters occur or try to stop the most intense disasters by occurring. Meanwhile, some economists like Joe Stiglitz are becoming more outspoken about the drastic financial impact that global warming will have on the US economy in the coming decades. These costs will only go up if more serious steps aren’t taken now.
This all seems contrary to President Obama’s pledge to make global warming one of his top three priorities in his second term. While Obama did have a few notable achievements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in his first term, all of them together are still not significant enough to prevent the worst-predicted impacts of global warming. If anything, he may be going the opposite direction with his campaign platform of support an “all of the above” energy policy approach (including clean coal, which doesn’t even exist) and rumors that he will be approving the Keystone XL pipeline. Let’s hope the new NOAA report changes his mind.