2012 hottest year on record in contiguous U.S., NOAA says
Washington Post Tuesday, January 8, 1:00 PM
Last year was the hottest on record for the contiguous United States, shattering the previous mark set in 1998 by a wide margin, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday.
The average temperature was 55.3 degrees, 1 degree above the previous record and 3.2 degrees more than the 20th-century average. Temperatures were above normal in every month between June 2011 and September 2012, a 16-month stretch that hasn’t occurred since the government began keeping such records in 1895.
Federal scientists said that the data are compelling evidence that climate change is affecting weather in the United States and suggest that the nation’s weather is likely to be hotter, drier and potentially more extreme than it would have been without the warmer temperatures.
Last year’s record temperature is “clearly symptomatic of a changing climate,” said Thomas R. Karl, who directs NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. Americans can now see the sustained warmth over the course of their own lifetimes — “something we haven’t seen before.” He added, “That doesn’t mean every season and every year is going to be breaking all-time records, but you’re going to see this with increasing frequency.”
Alaska and the Pacific Northwest didn’t experience record-setting heat last year; a cool-weather pattern over the Pacific Ocean kept temperatures lower.
Although the new analysis focuses on the United States, it has triggered an intense debate over whether global temperatures will reach dangerous levels by the century’s end. In 2009, the world’s leaders pledged to keep global temperatures from rising above pre-industrial levels by 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Now many academics and policymakers say that goal may be out of reach.
“We have to begin the conversation about cruising past 2 degrees, because we’re on course for that,” said John Podesta, who chairs the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. “It’s hard to contemplate and scary to contemplate, but it has to be addressed at this point.”
Vanderbilt Law School professor Michael Vandenbergh said today’s leaders will be judged harshly by future generations for not focusing on climate change.
“A hundred years from now, they’re not going to be talking about health care or the fiscal cliff,” he said. “But they will ask, ‘What did you do when we knew we were going to have serious climate change?’ ”
John R. Christy, who directs the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said some researchers are exaggerating the severity of the threat. He said that the right climate target is “in the mind of the beholder,” given that rising energy demand is a sign that many poor people are struggling “to be lifted out of their current condition.”
“No one in Washington can stop that,” he said. “And, right now, carbon is the most accessible and affordable way to supply that energy — so CO2 emissions will continue to rise because of the undeniable benefit carbon energy brings to human life.”
The International Energy Agency estimated last month that coal will come close to surpassing oil as the world’s top energy source in 2017 , when an additional 1.2 billion metric tons will be burned annually. In late November, the World Resources Institute reported there are nearly 1,200 proposed coal plants around the globe, three-quarters of which are planned for China and India.
By Jan. 1 of this year, the Kyoto Protocol was supposed to have cut the world’s greenhouse gas output by 5 percent compared with 1990 levels. While the signatories as a whole are likely to meet that target, in part because of the shutdown of Eastern European factories during the 1990s, global carbon emissions overall rose 54 percent during that same period, according to the Global Carbon Project.
As a result, many experts are engaged in a discussion over whether they should continue pressing for ambitious carbon cuts in the near term or adjust their goals in the face of the prospect of a much warmer world.
In 2004, Princeton University professors Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala wrote an influential paper outlining how the world could stabilize its greenhouse emissions by mid-century through a series of “wedges,” using current technology, such as sharply increasing nuclear power worldwide, eliminating deforestation and converting conventional plowing to no-tillage farming.
Now, Socolow has published an article in the Vanderbilt Law Review that he describes as his “let’s get real here” lecture, in which he outlines what the world can realistically achieve over the next four decades. Environmentalists “don’t think it’s time to start the bargaining” on what’s an appropriate climate target, Socolow said, but they need to adjust some of their goals in light of the projected temperature rise.
Compromises include capturing and storing carbon from power plants, he added, “since I don’t think we can put the fossil fuel industry out of business.”
At the same time, some researchers are pushing for much steeper emissions cuts. On Wednesday, the journal Environmental Research Letters will publish a paper showing that although Socolow and Pacala projected emissions could be stabilized by cutting 175 billion tons of carbon emissions over 50 years, accelerating emissions over the past decade mean that it could require more than 500 billion tons of avoided emissions to achieve the same goal.
Steven Davis, a University of California at Irvine earth system science professor and the study’s lead author, said he and his colleagues were seeking a “way to describe the magnitude of the challenge” in tackling climate change.
Chris Field, who directs the Carnegie Institution for Science’s global ecology department at Stanford University, noted that although it is impossible to say whether the world will be “safe” if it limits the temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, he compared it to “the number of flat tires I can tolerate on a road trip in my car.”
“With even one flat, there is a risk of a serious accident. But because I am a careful driver, and I have a spare, one is probably ok,” he wrote in an e-mail. “With two flats on the trip, I know I don’t have a spare for the second one, and I understand that the risk of a serious accident is increased. .?.?. For more than two flats, things get really messy.”
Several activists who track international climate talks identified the next three years as critical, saying negotiators need to forge a new pact by 2015 in order to lock in needed carbon cuts. Alden Meyer, who directs strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said major emitters will not agree to meaningful cuts until they view it as in “their national self-interest.”
In the United States, a combination of high temperatures and dry conditions last year took a serious toll on the nation’s agricultural sector. NOAA’s Karl noted that the Midwest had been relatively wet for several years, which had curbed the impact of warmer temperatures.
In 2012, he said, “both the day and the nighttime temperatures were breaking their all-time records,” and that combined with drier conditions amounted to “a double whammy.”
The warmest March on record meant vegetation levels were 25 percent higher than normal that month, but many of those crops dried up because 39 percent of the United States experienced severe or extreme drought in 2012.
Originally posted by: Jason Voorheees
saw this after irene, seemed relevant again.
Want to keep the power on? Bury power lines
By David Frum, CNN Contributor 8/30/11
(CNN) -- Congratulations: If you're reading this, you have electricity. Unfortunately, more than 3 million Americans this weekend couldn't join you. The sweltering heat wave that roasted the eastern United States was accompanied by terrible storms that have knocked out power lines up and down the seaboard.
While you enjoy your air conditioning, you might want to take a minute to consider: Why do Americans tolerate such outages?
Outages are not inevitable. The German power grid has outages at an average rate of 21 minutes per year.
The winds may howl. The trees may fall. But in Germany, the lights stay on.
There's no Teutonic engineering magic to this impressive record. It's achieved by a very simple decision: Germany buries almost all of its low-voltage and medium-voltage power lines, the lines that serve individual homes and apartments. Americans could do the same. They have chosen not to.
The choice has been made for reasons of cost. The industry rule of thumb is that it costs about 10 times as much to bury wire as to string wire overhead: up to $1 million per mile, industry representatives claim. Since American cities are much less dense than European ones, there would be a lot more wire to string to serve a U.S. population than a European one.
But now reflect:
1. There's reason to think that industry estimates of the cost of burying wires are inflated. While the U.S. industry guesstimates costs, a large-scale study of the problem conducted recently in the United Kingdom estimated the cost premium at 4.5 to 5.5 times the cost of overhead wire, not 10.
2. U.S. cost figures are a moving target. American cities are becoming denser as the baby boomers age and opt for central-city living, as I discussed in a previous column. Denser cities require fewer miles of wire to serve their populations.
3. Costs can only be understood in relation to benefits. As the climate warms, storms and power outages are becoming more common. And as the population ages, power failures become more dangerous. In France, where air conditioning is uncommon, a 2003 heat wave left 10,000 people dead, almost all of them elderly. If burying power lines prevented power outages during the hotter summers ahead, the decision could save many lives.
4. As you may have heard, we're suffering very severe unemployment just at present. Joblessness is acute among less educated workers, many of whom used to work in the now severely depressed construction industry. Burying power lines is a project that could put many hundreds of thousands of the unemployed to work at tasks that make use of their skills and experience.
Meanwhile, the federal government is able to borrow vast sums of money at the lowest interest rates since the Great Depression. The Obama stimulus has to date failed to produce many projects of lasting benefit to the country. But here's one that our children and grandchildren would appreciate -- and that might save our parents' lives.