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NOAA announces 2012 is hottest year on record as Australia still burns

Climate anomalies have been increasing for half a decade, but 2012 became the watershed year when global warming and climate change started getting the attention they deserve. The tragic devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy put an urgent spotlight on climate change, much like the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School put the spotlight on gun control.

On Tuesday, NOAA officially announced what many scientists had already been reporting, that 2012 had the hottest global temperatures in the lower 48 states since climate record-keeping started in 1910.

In the summer of 2012, drought hit Midwest states hard in the U.S., but Australia has been dealing with it for years. 2013 is lining up to be worse as heat and more than 100 wildfires have raged across many areas of the Australian terrain.

While the U.S. has been experiencing record snowstorms and hurricanes, Australia is in the middle of its summer. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology reports that moisture-sucking heat waves have been unprecedented. The heat has never been as intense, widespread or long-lasting as what Australians are currently experiencing, with Jan. 7, 2013 being the hottest day recorded in 103 years at 105 degrees F (40.3 C) average, with the hottest temperature being 118 degrees.

Drought is starting to get a lot more attention as it is a self-perpetuating weather pattern since moisture can’t be drawn into the atmosphere to create rain clouds if there isn’t any ground-moisture to begin with, experts explain.

Scientists are concerned because droughts can persist for years. Even relatively short periods of drought can cause catastrophic agricultural and economic damage. It has been going on for decades in Africa, often triggering mass migrations and humanitarian crises.

Global governments need to take action

But the United States government has been particularly slow to acknowledge the urgency of global warming, with a handful of right-wing politicians refusing to give any ground on the subject, as they throw petty blockades at even the most fundamental legislative processes, like Cabinet appointees.

Weary scientists are tired of the inaction and are becoming more vocal for the need to do something to abate atmospheric warming. Temperatures, they report, are on a trajectory to rise a further four to six degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

“Those of us who spend our days trawling – and contributing to – the scientific literature on climate change are becoming increasingly gloomy about the future of human civilization,’’ said Liz Hanna, convener of Australia’s Climate Change Adaptation Network. “We are well past the time of niceties, of avoiding the dire nature of what is unfolding, and politely trying not to scare the public. The unparalleled setting of new heat extremes is forcing the continual upwards trending of warming predictions for the future and the timescale is contracting.’’

According to the NOAA report, even tropical areas are undergoing historic drought. Hawaii is currently experiencing increasing drought conditions, with 47.4 percent of the state experiencing moderate-to-exceptional drought at the beginning of 2012 and 63.3 percent at the end of the year.

Scientists are hoping that NOAA’s official report, along with every day real-time weather catastrophes, will cause political leaders to act.

This disturbing news puts the heat on President Obama to take immediate action against carbon pollution,” said Dr. Shaye Wolf, Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco. “The blazing temperatures that scorched America in 2012 are a bitter taste of the climate chaos ahead. Science tells us that our rapidly warming planet will endure more heat waves, droughts and extreme weather. The president needs to start making full use of the Clean Air Act to fight greenhouse gas emissions before it’s too late.”

The burning of fossil fuel remains the No. 1 reason for atmospheric C02 imbalance. Therein lays a major roadblock for some U.S. politicians, who don’t want to anger their big oil supporters, but hopefully this drastic heat-record news will thaw out some action.

Related story:

If fiscal cliff deal took herculean effort, what will it take to avoid climate abyss?

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Jean Williams, environmental journalist; PrairieDogPress writer; Artistic Director, Keystone Prairie Dogs.

PrairieDogPress is the media channel for keystone-prairie-dogs.com, which is a fundraising website to support environmental groups for extraordinary efforts to protect Great Plains habitat and prairie dogs in the wild. PDP uses humorous images, social commentary and serious-minded political reports to challenge government on numerous levels, including accountability to the people, the protection of threatened species, the environment and Earth’s natural resources.