It’s official: the wildfires that destroyed hundreds of homes and scorched 9.2 million acres, the Great Drought that covered 61.8 percent of the contiguous U.S. in July, making it the largest since the Dust Bowl drought of December 1939, and heat damages causing shriveled crops across the farm belt at an estimated cost of $35 billion, are all connected.
All these weather events in the U.S. this past year add up to one thing: 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded in the U.S.
According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the year’s average temperature of 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit across the Lower 48 was more than 3.2 degrees warmer than the average for the 20th century. It was also a full degree higher than the previous record, set in 1998.
A climate scientist explains the significance of that one degree. From The New York Times:
“The heat was remarkable,” said Jake Crouch, a scientist with the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., which released the official climate compilation on Tuesday. “It was prolonged. That we beat the record by one degree is quite a big deal.”
Yes, a very big deal. NOAA reported that every state in the contiguous United States saw above-average temperatures in 2012, with 19 of them setting annual records of their own.
Here are a few examples: Lamar, CO, hit 112 degrees on June 27; Greenville, S.C. saw 107 degrees on July 1; and Nashville, TN, hit 109 degrees on June 29.
But it’s not just the U.S. that’s experiencing extreme heat.
Bush fires have been raging across some of the most populous parts of Australia recently, gaining such power that the government has had to change its forecast maps: they’ve added new shades of purple when the heat gets to 130 degrees.
The New York Times explains:
Four months of record-breaking temperatures stretching back to September 2012 have produced what the government says are “catastrophic” fire conditions along the eastern and southeastern coasts of the country, where the majority of Australians live.
Data analyzed on Wednesday by the government Bureau of Meteorology indicated that national heat records had again been set. The average temperature across the country on Tuesday was the highest since statistics began being kept in 1911, at 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), exceeding a mark set only the day before. Meteorologists have had to add two new color bands to their forecast maps, extending their range up to 129 degrees Fahrenheit.
Recent heat waves that have triggered wildfires, droughts, and heat-related deaths in the United States and around the globe “almost certainly would not have occurred” without global warming—and will become more routine in coming years, NASA climate scientist James Hansen says.
A new study examining six decades of global temperature data concludes that a sharp increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers can only be the result of human-caused global warming. (See an interactive map of global warming effects.)
“We have shown … that the climate dice are now loaded—and that a new category of extreme climate events is occurring with increasing frequency,” study co-author Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, said in an email.
What can be done?
As more and more studies emerge showing a direct causal connection between global warming and extreme weather, we can hope that governments will take seriously the task of slowing or even halting climate change. They need to stop subsidizing fossil fuels, collect taxes from oil companies, and make much bigger strides towards clean, sustainable energy.
Individually, we can take small steps like turning off lights and reducing water usage, but it is at the government level that the real changes must happen.
We must demand change, whether by being active Care2 members and supporting organizations that are challenging the big corporations, or by speaking up whenever we can about the importance of this vital issue.
The world is getting hotter. Are we going to sit back and watch it burn up?
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Photo Credit: screenshot from ABC News
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