Over the last decade, I've published more than 500 columns. But none got more reaction than my column of March 15 entitled "Politicians fiddle while the Earth burns," lamenting the fact that Congress was doing nothing about global warming. Clearly, Americans are starting to worry about the survival of our planet and the indifference of our elected leaders.
Well, guess what? Since then, it's only gotten worse. And politicians are still doing nothing. I don't have to tell you how hot it is. We've all suffering.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), more than 3,000 temperature records were broken the week of July 4. Since the beginning of the year, more than 40,000 daily heat records were broken. According to an analysis by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, "Global surface temperatures in 2010 tied 2005 as the warmest on record." And 2011 currently ranks as the 10th warmest year ever, and it looks like 2012 will top that record. Already, January through June 2012 has been designated the hottest six-month period in history. And the United Nation's World Meteorological Organization reports that "the 13 warmest years have all occurred in the 15 years between 1997 and 2011."
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And that extreme heat is taking its toll. The evidence is all around us. Just less than 56 percent of the contiguous United States is experiencing moderate to extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Witness this year's devastating wildfires in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Crops are burning up, too. Prospects for the 2012 corn crop are grim, sparking a 30 percent jump in the price of corn over the last month – which already means higher prices at the supermarket for corn-fueled beef, chicken and dairy products.
If we don't burn up, we might well drown. Scientists report that Greenland glaciers are melting at a rate 30 percent faster than a decade ago, though not at the fast pace scientists once predicted. Still, we're experiencing the impact. The U.S. Geological Survey warns that sea levels on the Atlantic Coast are rising 3 to 4 times faster than the global rate. "Since about 1990, sea-level rise in the 600-mile stretch of coastal zone," reports the USGS, "has increased 2 to 3.7 millimeters per year; the global increase over the same period was 0.6 to 1.0 millimeters per year." Compare that to Norfolk, Va., fighting to deal with a 4.8-inch higher level. Philadelphia has experienced a 3.7 inch hike in sea levels; New York City, 2.8 inches. At this rate, predicts the USGS, Atlantic Coast waters will be 8 to 11 inches higher by 2100 – which means significant portions of Miami, Norfolk, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston will be under water.
Does any of this have anything to do with global warming? Not if you believe the media. In a survey of media coverage of Western wildfires between April 1 and June 30, 2012, Media Matters found a stunning silence on the subject of climate change. Only 6 percent of all print stories on wildfires made any mention of a possible connection to global warming. And only 1.6 percent of all TV news broadcasts.
I repeat: Do these extreme temperatures have anything to do with global warming? Yes – if you believe the scientists. For the very first time, a government report, released this week by NOAA, affirms a link between today's severe weather conditions and global warming caused by manmade greenhouse gas emissions. Climate scientists were careful not to blame every severe storm or extreme weather condition on climate change, but they did conclude that last year's record drought in Texas was made 20 times more likely to happen because of global warming.
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The connection between global warming and record high temperatures is clear, says Thomas Karl, director of NOAA's Climactic Data Center. It's like a baseball player on steroids. "With someone on steroids, the likelihood of hitting a ball over the fence and hitting a home run increases. And that is what we're seeing. The increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere leads to warmer global temperatures."
This time, the media could no longer ignore it. ABC News led the way, with Diane Sawyer reporting: "Hot planet. The world is heating up. And for the first time, a U.S. government-backed report ties that searing heat, those epic storms, to manmade global warming." The significance of which was quickly pointed out by Sam Champion, ABC New's weather editor: "If you want my opinion, Diane, now is the time we start limiting manmade greenhouse gases."
Indeed, now is the time. Instead of 33 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, maybe Congress could find time to take just one vote – on climate change.