While the Earth didn't end on December 21, 2012, the year's end was marked by a new awareness of the urgency of the climate crisis. Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the preciousness and fragility of life on Earth. That and other cultural shifts are setting the stage for significant change in the year ahead.
Nine key trends tell the story:
1. Climate Crisis: Alarm Translates Into Action
The climate crisis is the top story of 2012, with record-breaking heat, severe drought that led to the declaration of more than half of U.S. counties as disaster zones, wildfires that burned more than 9 million acres, and superstorm Sandy, with costs reaching into the billions. Four out of five Americans now believe that the climate problem is serious, according to an AP-Gfk poll.
The Obama administration has done little to address this problem -- in part because of congressional resistance -- but did set higher fuel emissions standards for automobiles, an important step in curtailing greenhouse gases.
The real action, though, is at the grassroots. Bill McKibben and 350.org launched a national movement in the fall of 2012 to press colleges and universities to divest their holdings in big energy companies. Texas and Nebraska landowners, Canadian tribes, and environmentalists everywhere are taking action to block the construction of a tar sands pipeline to ocean ports. Thousands turned out at hearings in Washington state to oppose the transport of millions of tons of Powder Basin coal through the region for export to China. And resistance to natural gas fracking is spreading throughout the Northeast.
Meanwhile, coal plants across the U.S. are closing, and a West Virginia coal company is giving up mountaintop removal as a result of pressure from environmental groups and falling demand in the wake of low prices for natural gas.
With widespread alarm at the extreme weather events, conditions are now ripe for a strong popular movement to take on the fossil fuel industry and its threat to human civilization.
2. U.S. Politics Get More Colorful
2012 saw the number of babies born to families of color exceed the number for white families. But the clout of non-whites is growing for other reasons. African Americans, Asians, and Latinos, along with women of all races, overcame discriminatory voter suppression tactics to hand President Obama the majority he needed to win a second term. The growing clout of communities of color has consequences, putting immigration reform firmly on the national agenda.
Meanwhile, the Republican Party's radical platform has alienated large majorities of women and people of color, and more than half of Americans call Republican policies "extreme."
The failure of policies unfriendly to women, people of color, and many others in the 99 percent has the Republican Party in disarray. There is now space for a progressive and inclusive agenda to emerge aimed at raising everyone up (including white men, but not privileging them).
3. Tolerance for Gun Violence Runs Thin
The school shooting in Newtown, Conn., may be the event that finally turns public opinion firmly against tolerance of gun violence. The Sandy Hook tragedy came on top of mass shootings in an Aurora, Col. movie theater, in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc., in a shopping mall in Clackamas, Ore., and elsewhere, for a total of 151 killed and injured, according to Mother Jones. This continues a trend of more than 2,000 children and teens killed by guns each year, according to a 2012 study by the Children's Defense Fund.
The good news is that a majority of Americans now supports bans on assault weapons, and, in spite of spikes in gun sales, the number of American households that own guns is actually down from the last few decades. Research shows that having a gun in the house increases the risk of homicide and suicide in that household.
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