Will hottest year ever force US to confront climate change?
Scientists hope 2012's record-breaking heat will drive climate change onto the political agenda
CLIMATE change may finally be thrust centre stage in the US as the country digests the fact that 2012 was the hottest year in more than a century of record-keeping.
Man-made climate change barely featured in last year's presidential campaign, but the news that 2012's average temperature was 55.3F – a full 1F above the previous record - may prove the tipping point for politicians and citizens alike. "Yes – it's climate change," said Time, describing the new record as "a landslide, meteorological standards".
The hot weather had serious economic and social consequences as 61 per cent of the US fell into drought last year causing billions of dollars of damage to crops.
But climate scientist Angela Anderson tells Time that the US will continue to break temperature records unless real efforts are made to "reduce emissions". President Obama, who has promised to make the issue a priority in his second term, needs to "turn words in actions" she says.
Mercury-busting temperatures weren't the only climate issue afflicting the US last year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says the year was also characterised by "the second-most extreme weather ever", reports Sky, with the US notching up 11 official "weather disasters".
The devastation of the east coast by Hurricane Sandy in October was probably the highest-profile disaster (a title awarded if more than $1 billion of damage is inflicted), but other hurricanes and "deadly tornado outbreaks" wreaked similar destruction.
The head of NOAA told the Washington Post the new data has "broad ramifications for policy – and everyday life". Thomas Karl said Americans who might have thought climate change would have no impact on their lives would have to rethink their attitude - "something we haven't seen before".
Professor Michael Vandenbergh, an American expert in energy and environmental law, tells the paper that health care and the fiscal cliff won't be debated in 100 years' time, but climate change will. "They will ask, 'What did you do when we knew we were going to have serious climate change?'" he says.