CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Industrial and political leaders in coal-dominated West Virginia generally shrug off global warming, or even call it imaginary. They won't admit that greenhouse fumes from coal-burning are heating the planet. So they'll probably stay silent about news that America just suffered its hottest year in history.
Federal climate scientists announced Tuesday that 2012 set a heat record for the continental United States -- 3.2 degrees above normal, and a stunning 1 degree higher than the previous record. It also was one of the driest years ever recorded in the United States.
Rising warmth worsens destructive weather. Warmer air holds more moisture, producing more ruinous storms like Hurricane Sandy and attendant floods -- yet it oddly causes more droughts and costly western wildfires.
Damage from Sandy alone is estimated as high as $80 billion. Horrible losses from extreme weather -- from Hurricane Katrina to the twister that wrecked Joplin, Mo. -- injure America's economy. The just-ended year was among the worst, with 11 separate weather disasters costing more than $1 billion each.
All fossil fuels release carbon dioxide, which rises into the sky and forms a heat-trapping barrier. Coal is worst in this regard.
The International Energy Agency reported last month that cheap shale gas is usurping coal's role in America -- but coal is booming elsewhere. Asia and Europe import vast tonnage. Nearly 1,200 new coal-fired power plants are proposed -- three-fourths of them in China and India. The IEA estimates that coal will surpass oil for global power generation by 2017. So coal's contribution to the planetary warm-up will continue.
When the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 (later rejected by the Bush-Cheney White House) it vowed to cut worldwide greenhouse gases by 5 percent by 2013. Instead, the carbon gases have risen 54 percent, according to the Global Carbon Project.
Some pessimists think global warming has progressed so much that it never can be reversed -- dooming the world to endless weather tragedies and terrible losses. America's 2012 heat record seems to fit that gloomy scenario.
A spokesman for the Union of Concerned Scientists warned this week:
"Unfortunately, this won't be the last time we break records like this. The longer we delay reducing emissions, the more climate change we're going to lock in. The president has promised to make climate change a priority in his second term."
It would be encouraging if more West Virginia leaders acknowledged that a problem exists.