Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Connecting the Dots Between Climate Change and Extreme Weather

Is smoking related to cancer? Does diet affect health? Today we recognize as fact that these are indeed related. Yet in the past, many business and political leaders fostered controversy and doubt about these issues for decades letting millions of people make harmful choices.

Similarly, today, many business and political leaders want doubt and controversy to shroud the question of whether there are dots to connect between extreme weather, climate change, and the fossil fuel industry that pumps carbon into our atmosphere. (Dr Trenberth is one of the climate scientists roundly vilified and branded an "alarmist" for his call to plan for and adapt to a changing climate.) 

As millions of people from the Caribbean to the U.S. and up to Canada suffer heartbreaking devastation from the unprecedented destruction of SuperStorm Sandy, we must address this issue in order to map a course for our future.  Do we assume storms like Hurricanes Katrina, Irene, and Sandy are just a matter of natural variability of "normal" weather so that we should simply rebuild and live life as "usual" or do we recognize that the Earth has changed and that we need to live differently to adapt to the new conditions?

Scientists choose their words carefully and so Climate Deniers think scientists are testifying that recent weather disasters are completely unrelated to Climate Change.


(Dr. Trenberth) "human-induced global warming has been raising the overall temperature of the surface ocean, by about one degree Fahrenheit since the 1970s. So global warming very likely contributed a notable fraction of the energy on which the storm (Sandy) thrived — perhaps as much as 10 percent"

"The ocean is rising relentlessly, and scientists say this is a direct consequence of global warming. Warm water expands, just as warm air does, and the warming of the ocean is one factor behind the rise. Another is that land ice the world over is starting to melt as the climate grows warmer, dumping extra water into the ocean."

(Dr. Emanuel) "coastal flooding on a scale that once happened only once or twice per century — the scale of Sandy, in other words — will become much more commonplace within the coming decades."


(Dr. Hoerling) "There is a nice historical record of the tide level at the Battery just below Manhattan that goes back to 1850s. And that time series, which is fairly complete up to current, shows a rise in the total sea level of about one foot in the 150 years of that record. Now, we have 14-foot rise related to Sandy. So one foot out of 14 may not be something that is critical. But it may very well be in the sense that that last foot may be the foot that moved the water into very prone areas."

*From NYT Green Blogs -
**From NPR interview -

Dr. Trenberth sums up the misunderstanding succinctly: "The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be." He illustrates by pointing out that steroids in a baseball player's system do not cause home runs all by themselves but do make home runs more likely. UC Berkeley linguist George Lakoff describes this confusion as arising from the public's misunderstanding of the difference between "direct causation" and "systemic causation".

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