2012 Hottest Year on Record

2012 may not have brought in the Mayan apocalypse, but it did see drought parch America’s agricultural heartland, a hurricane shatter much of the east coast, and wildfires devour entire subdivisions, and 9.2 million acres of forest, all over the west. Biologists have been tracking the effects of climate change on wildlife populations for years now, and they’ve observed declines in food availability and destruction of habitat among the consequences. If you need any further illustration that climate change is not just some abstract problem for polar bears, it has arrived. 2012 was the warmest year on record in the US, a full 2.3ºF above the 20th century average. It was also the second most extreme on record, measured in terms of the number of weather events that caused more than a billion dollars in damage (11 in 2012, with Hurricane Sandy estimated to have caused about $60 billion alone.) As the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team commissions a new study on the effects of climate change on the bears’ diet, the ski industry is trying to figure out what to do about the effects of climate change on ski resorts. As Congress squabbles over providing relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy, USFWS may be preparing to recommend wolverines for listing because the species is losing its living space. Everyone’s livelihoods are at risk here, and our storylines – humans and wildlife alike – are finally intersecting in very vivid ways. The world we will live in will not be the same as the world we have been living in, which is why I couldn’t bring myself to write a cheerful “Happy New Year” post. But I also didn’t want to write a depressing “this year was awful and we are all going to die” post while everyone was celebrating, either. So this is my compromise, a week later: a little something to reflect on when we consider what 2012 looked like, and what we want 2013 and future years to look like, not just for wolverines, but for your children and grandchildren.

 

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