CLIMATE CHANGE

Australia in Flames & More Extreme Weather Events (PHOTOS)

Catastrophic’ conditions in Australia have virtually set the continent on fire, deadly droughts across the United States have forced the U.S. to classify 597 counties as natural disasters, and NOAA has declared 2012 the hottest year on record. If you are among the shrinking minority that doesn’t believe in global warming, let this be a wake-up call.

Pamela Martin/Getty

Pamela Martin/Getty

Australia Fires

“Catastrophic” conditions in Australia have virtually set the continent on fire, deadly droughts across the United States have forced it to classify 597 counties as natural disasters, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has declared 2012 the hottest year on record. If you are among the shrinking minority that doesn’t believe in global warming, let this be a wake-up call.

James Morris/NSW Rural Fire Service, via AP

Australia Wildfires

As fires rage through some of the most populous areas of southeastern Australia, scientists worldwide are pointing to “catastrophic conditions” as the cause for the seemingly inexhaustible blaze. Long story short: four months of record-breaking temperatures and debilitating droughts have sent one of the most arid continents on earth up in flames. As firefighters battle to contain the scores of wildfires, authorities are evacuating homes, businesses, and parks as they raise the threat to its highest alert level.

Hrvoje Polan/AFP/Getty

European Freeze

In February 2012, a large part of Europe was caught in a dangerous deep freeze that brought chilling temperatures, icy roads, and almost unimaginable blizzards. The severe—and deadly—cold snap affected many cities, including in Italy, Serbia, and Greece, where schools and businesses were closed indefinitely. Ukraine was hit particularly hard, when more than 23,000 people were left isolated in 225 eastern communities as snow blocked their roads and rail system. In all more than 650 lives were claimed in the cold spell, many of the victims homeless people who were unable to find warm shelter.

Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg, via Getty

U.S. Drought

The drought of 2012 was the most severe, excruciating, and extensive to plague the United States in 25 years. Searing millions of acres of pasture and cropland, it ruined not only crops, but also the lives of the farmers who grow them. On Wednesday the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated 597 counties in 14 states primary natural-disaster areas, based on temperature and drought.

Galon Wampler/AP

Western Wildfires

The most destructive wildfire in Colorado history hit the area around Colorado Springs in late June and burned for more than two weeks. The Waldo Canyon wildfire turned 346 homes into ash, burned through 18,247 acres, and killed 2 people. Investigators determined that it was human-caused, but no culprit was found, and the case remains open. The raging fire was a huge expense, and not just for the environment—claims totaled more than $352.6 million.

LM Otero/AP

West Nile Outbreak

Before last summer’s outbreak, the West Nile virus had made headlines only a handful of times in the U.S. The country’s first case of the disease, carried by various rare species of mosquito, was reported in 1999 in New York City, of all places. The news of West Nile’s arrival in North America sent people scrambling to their local drugstores for Off! But mosquito repellent didn’t officially become a hot commodity until last year’s epidemic. By the third week of August, 47 states had reported the virus, with 1,118 total cases leading to 41 deaths. Seventy-five percent of the cases were reported in the Deep South (marshy regions in Texas became West Nile cesspools). So what’s the connection between this pesky virus and global warming? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the unusually warm weather might have fostered favorable conditions for the disease’s transfer from insects to humans.

Mandel Ngan/AFP, via Getty

‘Derecho’

In the last week of June, a bowling line of thunderstorms dashed from Chicago to Washington, D.C., in 12 hours, with 60- to 80-mile-per-hour wind gusts downing hundreds of trees. The fast-moving, destructive “derecho” left more than 1 million people without power and killed at least five people in the D.C. area alone.

Andrew Burton/Getty

Hurricane Sandy

In the days after Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast, the media was flooded with headlines like “It’s Global Warming, Stupid” (that one was Businessweek). As authorities scrambled to restore power in the hardest-hit regions, climate-change experts were already plotting preparations for the next superstorm. In the Businessweek story, Paul Barrett catalogues the arguments from both the scientific labs and the insurance companies linking Sandy to climate change. He acknowledges the theories are complex, but “clarity, however, is beyond reach. Sandy demands it.”

Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty

European Heat Waves

At least seven heat waves hit Europe in the summer of 2012. During one heat wave, in late August, which was nicknamed Desert Colossus, temperatures in some areas reached 104 degrees. The heat waves throughout Europe caused an estimated $1.2 billion of agricultural damage alone.