A major story in most of yesterday's network news was a report out of the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., that 2012 was the warmest year in U.S. history, smashing the previous record, set in 1998, by a full degree. The article in USA Today went on to note:
"Every state had a warmer-than-average year. A total of 19 states, stretching from Utah to Massachusetts, had record warmth in 2012 and an additional 26 states had a Top 10 warm year. 'These records do not occur like this in an unchanging climate,' said Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. 'And they are costing many billions of dollars.'"A few years back, when I began blogging on climate change, the national news media was very reluctant to link short-term weather events to long-term climate change. Now the connection between weather extremes and a changing climate is hard to avoid.
We know why this is happening. Hell, we've known it for 150 years. John Tyndall identified carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas in 1859. By 1896, thanks to the work of Svante Arrhenius and Arvid Högbom, we knew that factories burning coal were adding what could potentially be a significant amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Of course, knowing about it is one thing; doing something about it is quite another.
It's pretty obvious that we still aren't ready to do much, if anything, about slowing climate change. We aren't ready to seriously reduce levels of greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. We aren't ready to spend the billions it will take to protect our shorelines against rising sea levels. We aren't ready to deal with the loss of entire sectors of our global agricultural economy. And we are definitely not ready to wrap our heads around the idea that climate change may already have reached the point of no return, past which there is nothing we can do to prevent major economic and social disruptions such as we have seen this year from becoming the new normal.
Based on what I have seen, our political system will not deal with this, so it's up to each of us to sit our kids down and tell them the truth. Every life choice they make will be overshadowed by the choices we made in our lifetime, choices that have left them with a depleted planet and a bankrupt economic and political system. Sucks, for sure. But we owe them at least that much.