Warmest year should be catalyst

January 9, 2013

Temperatures are forecast to creep into the 60s Saturday, and, no doubt, some of the region’s bicyclists will be pumping up their tires and lighting out for the nearest trail.

They should enjoy their exertions without any guilt – even in the bleakest of winters, there are brief thaws and momentary warm spells, so a bike ride in Pennsylvania just a few weeks after Christmas is not without precedent.

It’s not the day-to-day fluctuations in the weather that should cause concern, though, but the long-term trends. And in that department, there’s plenty of reason to wring your hands. The National Climactic Data Center reported Tuesday that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the continental United States. It was warmer than the previous warmest year, 1998, by a full degree Fahrenheit. The differences between years in terms of temperature are typically measured in fractions of a degree. It was also in the same league as 1998 where weather extremes were concerned, according to the Climate Extremes Index.

Though it was undeniably a pleasure to let dust settle on the snow shovel and bask in summer-like highs in March, it wasn’t good in the long-term. The fact that 10 of the warmest years on record have all occurred in the last 15 years would seem to suggest, with trumpets blaring and neon lights blazing, that something is afoot where our climate is concerned.

Yet more evidence of our warming world comes from Australia where, in the last several days, wildfires have been burning and meteorologists have been predicting that temperatures could exceed a long-standing record of 122 degrees Fahrenheit, which, to rework the old adage, is fit for neither man nor kangaroo nor koala bear.

Scientists have predicted that if climate change continues unabated, by the end of the century Pennsylvania will have summers like those currently in Alabama. And that means summers in Alabama will be, well, probably beyond human sufferance. The droughts that accompany climate change will have devastating effects on food and water supplies and the economy as a whole. More deadly and costly storms are a virtual certainty, and coastal regions could well find themselves underwater. An already deeply vulnerable, impoverished nation like Bangladesh could be facing staggering levels of instability and hunger.

In his post-election press conference Nov. 14, President Obama said that “I am a firm believer that climate change is real ... And, as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.”

He also promised “a wide-ranging conversation” on climate change. With the start of Obama’s second term just days away, we hope it will be marked by not just talk on climate change, but action.



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