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Time Is Not on Our Side

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page.

When it came to climate change in 2012, the operative word was "hot" (with "record" a close second).  The continental U.S. broiled.  Drought struck with a passion and, as the year ended, showed no sign of going away any time soon.  Water levels on the Mississippi River fell so perilously low as to threaten traffic and business on one of the nation's busier arteries.  Meanwhile, it's estimated that record greenhouse gas emissions were pumped into the atmosphere.  And just in case you were thinking of putting those words "hot" and "record" away for a while, the first predictions for 2013 suggest that, drearily enough, they are once again likely to be much in use.  None of us should really be surprised by any of this, since the ill effects of pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere have for years been outrunning the predictions of sober climate scientists.

Surprising numbers of Americans, from the Jersey shore to the parched Midwest, have met the effects of climate change up close and personal in these last years as billion-dollar "natural" disasters multiply in the U.S.  As a result, there seems to be an increasing awareness that it isn't some vague, futuristic possible disaster but a growing reality in our lives.  On the TV news, however, "extreme weather" -- a phrase that sounds awful but is meant to have no larger meaning -- has come to stand in for examples of the climate-change-induced intensification of global weather patterns.  After all, no point in drawing too much attention to a dismal reality.

That's perhaps why, as last year ended, the only "cliff" we heard about ad nauseam was the "fiscal" one, which would prove a very flexible part of the American landscape.  For a while, in mixed-metaphorical fashion, it "loomed" endlessly, and then it proved to be erasable or moveable -- in reality, something closer to a "fiscal bluff," with whatever double meanings you care to read into that.  But why no emphasis on the "climate cliff" in a year in which, as George Monbiot recently wrote in the Guardian, "governments turned their backs on the living planet, demonstrating that no chronic problem, however grave, will take priority over an immediate concern, however trivial"? 


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