It might not feel like it now, but 2012 is set to match the warmest year on record in the Twin Cities and could turn out to be Minnesota's warmest ever.
It's also virtually certain to have been the warmest for the entire country.
The average Minnesota temperature for the year is likely to be 50.8 degrees -- making 2012 and 1931 the warmest years since 1873, the first full year of record-keeping.
"We are almost sleepwalking through this," said University of Minnesota Extension climatologist Mark Seeley. "We should be concerned about the trend. With each passing year, the trends are having measurable consequences."
Seeley declined to make exact predictions for 2013, except for saying that temperatures almost certainly will be above normal. But he endorsed the United Kingdom Meteorological Office prediction that the coming year will rank among the 10 warmest globally since 1850, and is "likely to be warmer than 2012."
Minnesotans will be moving to the forefront of efforts to attack climate change in 2013. The DFL-controlled Legislature will be looking at supporting more alternatives to fossil-fuel energy, efficiency standards for home appliances and how Minnesota might cope with the effects of a warmer climate -- including drought and floods.
Forecast: Warmer, and warmer
Organized initiatives to combat the problem are a new aspect of the phenomenon that scientists say is locked in, both locally and globally, for at least several decades, because of continuing increases in greenhouse-gas emissions to the atmosphere, which linger and trap heat.
Greenhouse-gas emissions in Minnesota have declined about 5 percent since 2005, according to Peter Ciborowski, research scientist with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. A large part of that was due to the recession. But Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, said it is very possible that emission levels may have peaked, because, in the meantime, Minnesotans have achieved more energy efficiency in their homes and businesses, are driving more fuel-efficient cars and are developing renewable energy sources to replace fossil fuels.
Foley acknowledged that the global and long-term nature of climate warming tends to undermine attempts to create a sense of urgency to deal with it. Hurricane Sandy, he noted, was quickly overshadowed by the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings. But state Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, chairwoman of the House Energy Policy Committee, called it "the single-most pressing issue of our time." Noting that Minnesota is on track to meet greenhouse-gas emission reduction goals set in 2007, Hortman said she will be backing legislation that promotes emission reductions while saving people money.
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, the new chairman of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, said climate change will be given "significant prominence" in the upcoming Legislature. He also said he believes people might have gotten tired of waiting for political leaders to tackle the issue.
But Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, chairman of the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee, said he doesn't want to spend much time on greenhouse-gas and other energy- and climate-related issues. Dill, who said he has "some skepticism" about how much climate change is attributable to greenhouse gases, wants the Legislature to focus on smoothing out the state's boom-and-bust budget process. He said he won't back any legislation that he believes could add costs to the state's timber and mining industries.
A protest movement?
In a presentation at the University of Minnesota earlier this month, environmental author Bill McKibben brought the crowd to its feet by calling for civil disobedience in confronting oil companies' role in continuing emissions that feed the greenhouse effect.
His organization, 350.org, is staging what it says will be a massive demonstration on Presidents' Day in Washington, D.C., to protest the proposed construction of the Keystone pipeline, which would bring oil extracted from the tar sands of Alberta to the United States for refining and distribution.
The Minnesota chapter of 350.org is planning for members to ride to Washington on chartered Amtrak cars or buses.
Julia Nerbonne, spokeswoman for MN350.org, said drought, floods and the heat of 2012 seem to have convinced many to get on the train, literally and figuratively.
"They might have been concerned about it before, but that pushed them to feel like it's a crisis. I think people are tired of being polite and talking about energy efficiency. This isn't just about energy efficiency. This is a deep moral issue."
Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646