Too hot to handle: The danger of climate change is cause to sweat
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Mother Nature is trying to tell us something and every passing year her message becomes more urgent. That is the takeaway from the news that 2012 was the hottest year in the history of the contiguous United States.
The politicized community of climate change deniers will always find a way to deny the obvious, but more and more the obvious just won't be pushed out of sight. The situation has become a grim variation of the punch line to the old joke: Who are you going to believe, the climate change deniers or the evidence of your own eyes -- or, in this case, the temperature of your own skin?
Plainly, something is seriously wrong with the weather and the climate systems that form it. You don't have to be a scientist to recognize this. In Pittsburgh, you just have to remember the winters of yore when ponds were frozen and winter sat heavily on the landscape for weeks.
As it happens, the world's scientists are overwhelmingly united in the belief that the planet's climate is changing and mankind's release of carbon-based pollution has had a hand in it. The fallback position of the skeptics is that the facts can be explained in terms of natural rhythms that have always occurred. That is progress, the place where a sensible debate might begin.
In that debate, the facts are mute on liberal or conservative positions but are what they are -- and what they are is evidence for the thesis of climate change and the grim predictions that follow it. It's hard to argue with predictions that keep coming true -- such as heat waves and 100-year storms becoming regular occurrences.
While it can be perilous to make too much of a single storm, or perhaps a single year, consider what a year 2012 was in the United States. As The New York Times reported, temperature change is usually measured in fractions of degrees. Last year's 55.3-degree average was a full degree Fahrenheit higher than the old record set in 1998. By a count kept by a Weather Channel meteorologist, a record 34,008 daily record highs were set at U.S. weather stations last year compared with only 6,664 record lows.
It is not just happening in the United States. Large parts of Australia are suffering through terrible heat waves and related bush fires. Australian summers (the seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere) are often sweltering and fires are no stranger to the landscape, but the last few days have brought apocalyptic scenes.
According to The Associated Press, Australia had its hottest day on record Monday with a nationwide average of 104.59 degrees Fahrenheit. On Tuesday, Sydney, a port city often cooled by breezes off the ocean, registered a temperature of 109 degrees.
It's another subject that President Barack Obama and Congress must address, despite the fact that U.S. politicians have been like the frog in the heated pot that slowly boiled to death without uttering a croak of sense.
First Published January 13, 2013 12:00 am