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World/National News

December 30, 2012

Climate science makes a comeback in 2012

This was the year climate change vanished from the political agenda — and then suddenly reappeared, after Hurricane Sandy shook the country.

It was just a few years ago that President Barack Obama flew to Copenhagen to rescue faltering climate treaty talks amid bipartisan calls for global warming action. But in 2012, there wasn’t a single congressional proposal or hearing on climate legislation. Neither was there mention of climate change on the presidential campaign trail, or in the debates for the first time in decades.

In the rare instances that climate change surfaced in national discussions, politicians were fixated on the one aspect of warming scientists aren’t debating: whether it’s occurring.

Republican-affiliated climate researchers told InsideClimate News that attempts to educate their party leaders on the science were rebuffed. Meanwhile, many U.S. scientists fended off attacks of global warming skeptics, while Canadian scientists had to deal with budget cuts and muzzling by the government.

Amid the silence and skepticism, the Earth sent its own message.

Month after month, heat records fell, with 2012 expected to be the hottest on record for the contiguous 48 states. Nearly half the nation was in extreme drought for much of this year. Wildfires consumed more than 9 million acres across the nation, devouring 50 percent more land than the 10-year average. Summer sea ice extent and volume in the Arctic reached record lows, and glacial melt in Greenland was reported to have increased five-fold since the mid-1990s.

Then Hurricane Sandy hit, one week before Election Day.

A 9-foot storm surge fueled by 70-mile-per-hour winds engulfed the East Coast. Sections of New York City, the epicenter of the nation’s financial industry, disappeared underwater, creating a picture that looked eerily similar to predictions made five years ago of future global warming. The total price tag for Sandy could be $50 billion.

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