Though the Mayan calendar miscalculated the end of the world in 2012, new information published by the National Climactic Data Center forebodes an equally concerning future for the planet.
The report, released last week, named 2012 the warmest year on record for the continental United States — a record previously set in 1998. And though the year’s average temperature — a chilly 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit — might seem undesirably low for USC’s student body, it marks the 15th straight year of temperature increases for the country and furthers evidence backing claims of climate change.
Data collected by the federal government since 1895 demonstrates a continual increase in U.S. temperatures. Not coincidentally, rates of fossil-fuel consumption
and greenhouse-gas emissions have been on a steady incline for decades. Current Environmental Protection Agency inventories have U.S. emissions projections on an upward trend through 2050, assuming no reforms are made. Additionally, global scientific consensus — as collected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — backs the notion that it is in fact these harmful, man-made activities that are causing the increases in temperature.
The data is alarming, and the consequences could be catastrophic. Climbing temperatures at home and abroad will result in the loss of land to rising sea levels, the spread of tropical diseases, worldwide food shortages and, of course, an increase in the occurrence of extreme weather, the likes of which were most recently seen with Superstorm Sandy.
The social, ecological and economic costs will be tremendous. Forget the iconic polar bear — if action isn’t taken, the planet will soon be unlivable for ourselves.
And action must be taken now. Unlike many current political issues, that of man-made climate change comes with a time limit. If new proposals for reform continue to be met with the type of gridlock that has plagued Washington for years, the problem will soon be insurmountable. For too long, policymakers and voters alike have placed short-term interests ahead of our long-term responsibility to protect our way of life for future generations.
This dangerous trajectory will inevitably bring about our own destruction if immediate adjustments are not made.Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the necessary reforms will be initiated from the top-down. Even as President Barack Obama emphasizes an “obligation to future generations to do something about [climate change],” it appears that the problem will once again take a secondary role on the national agenda to issues such as jobs and the economy. What’s more, Big Oil has already reared its ugly head in the new year, with Jack Gerard, the chief executive of the American Petroleum Institute, warning Congress and the White House against any actions that might impede domestic fossil-fuel production.
So, with precarious support from the government and intimidating opposition from the increasingly powerful oil companies, everyday citizens are left with the task of addressing climate change themselves. It’s a daunting endeavor, to say the least, but grassroots initiatives seem to be the most promising with regard to solving the problem. One group, 350.org, has spearheaded numerous campaigns to move toward a more sustainable planet. With notable success, the organization has mobilized thousands of global citizens in support of the cause.
With the latest figures on U.S. temperatures for 2012 now available, we must inform business leaders and policymakers that the American people will no longer settle for more of the same detrimental complacency. We must reject ignorance and work toward a society that addresses today’s issues today, instead of placing the burden on future generations, when the problem will only be magnified.
Climate change skeptics beware: Following a year of relentless Midwestern droughts and extreme hurricanes along the East Coast, the NCDC’s most recent report only strengthens the argument that unfavorable changes in climate are largely the result of human activities. And though even top scientists cannot say with absolute certainty if 2013 will continue to follow climate-change trends, officials at every level should take note. New and bold policies might at be unpopular at first, but it’s certainly better to deal with that than a disastrous future.
Austin Reagan is a freshman majoring in environmental studies and political science.