Hurricanes, floods and wildfires – but Washington won’t talk global warming


America is seeing record-breaking extreme weather, yet the US political class is paralysed in climate change negligence

From, guardian.co.uk, Friday 9 September 2011

Firefighters in Smithville, Texas: Governor Rick Perry, has called climate change an 'unproven theory' while wildfires ravage his drought-scorched state.

Firefighters in Smithville, Texas: Governor Rick Perry, has called climate change an 'unproven theory' while wildfires ravage his drought-scorched state. Photograph: Erich Schlegel/AP

Record-breaking “meteorological misery” from coast to coast is making it clear that severe weather may well be the new normal. Weather is getting more extreme and this, scientists tell us, has a lot to do with climate change. Meanwhile, inside the Beltway and among mainstream media, there’s virtually no public debate about the likelihood we’re already paying the high price of climate change

To be sure, we can’t definitively pin any single weather event to climate change. Weather is about near-term changes in the atmosphere; climate is about long-term changes to the atmosphere over time and the larger interrelations of ocean, ice and land. As Nasa puts it, “When we talk about climate change, we talk about changes in long-term averages of daily weather.” As such, weather is like climate’s rambunctious little brother who’s always in your face.

For decades, climate scientists have been writing an increasingly precise script for climate change and now nature has snatched the lead role with abandon. One recent report from the US Climate Change Science Programme, “Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate” (pdf), summarised weather extremes this way:

“With continued global warming, heat waves and heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in frequency and intensity. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity. Hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge levels are likely to increase. The strongest cold season storms are likely to become more frequent, with stronger winds and more extreme wave heights.”

More (Click here)

Here in Canada the situation is very similar and “Merchants of Doubt” driven by extreme political ideology, religious fanaticism or corrupt vested business interests continue to divert policy making away from necessary mitigation and adaptation strategies. The mainstream media also cling to “balanced reporting” effectively encouraging doubt mongers, contrarians and denialists to express unsubstantiated opinion in contrast to legitimate and robust scientific evidence.

I recommend highly that you download and read the report from the US Climate Change Science Programme, “Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate” (pdf) (Synthesis and Assessment Product 3.3 Report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research)

Citation: CCSP, 2008: Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate. Regions of Focus: North America, Hawaii, Caribbean, and U.S. Pacific Islands. A Report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research. [Thomas R. Karl, Gerald A. Meehl, Christopher D. Miller, Susan J. Hassol, Anne M. Waple, and William L. Murray (eds.)]. Department of Commerce, NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, Washington, D.C., USA, 164 pp.

USCCP Extreme WeatherThe following synopsis comes from that document.

Changes in extreme weather and climate events have  significant impacts and are among the most serious challenges  to society in coping with a changing climate.

Many extremes and their associated impacts are now  changing. For example, in recent decades most of North  America has been experiencing more unusually hot days and nights, fewer unusually cold days and nights, and fewer frost days. Heavy downpours have become more frequent and intense. Droughts are becoming more severe in some regions, though there are no clear trends for North America as a  whole. The power and frequency of Atlantic hurricanes have  increased substantially in recent decades, though North  American mainland land-falling hurricanes do not appear to  have increased over the past century. Outside the tropics,  storm tracks are shifting northward and the strongest storms are becoming even stronger.

It is well established through formal attribution studies that  the global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to  human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases. Such studies have only recently been used to determine the causes of some  changes in extremes at the scale of a continent. Certain  aspects of observed increases in temperature extremes have been linked to human influences. The increase in heavy  precipitation events is associated with an increase in water  vapor, and the latter has been attributed to human-induced warming. No formal attribution studies for changes in drought  severity in North America have been attempted.  There is evidence suggesting a human contribution to recent changes in hurricane activity as well as in storms outside the tropics, though a confident assessment will require further  study.

In the future, with continued global warming, heat waves and  heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in  frequency and intensity. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity.  Hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge  levels are likely to increase. The strongest cold season storms are likely to become more frequent, with stronger winds and  more extreme wave heights.

Current and future impacts resulting from these changes  depend not only on the changes in extremes, but also on  responses by human and natural systems.

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2 Responses to Hurricanes, floods and wildfires – but Washington won’t talk global warming

  1. Alan Burke says:

    From my page Impact and Adaptation see also:

    From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate 2007 reflects the advances made in understanding Canada’s vulnerability to climate change during the past decade. Through a primarily regional approach, this assessment discusses current and future risks and opportunities that climate change presents to Canada, with a focus on human and managed systems. It is based on a critical analysis of existing knowledge, drawn from the published scientific and technical literature and from expert knowledge. The current state of understanding is presented, and key knowledge gaps are identified. Advances in understanding adaptation, as well as examples of recent and ongoing adaptation initiatives, are highlighted throughout the report.

    An extract from Natural Resources Canada
    HTMLPDF

  2. Alan Burke says:

    See also “Climate and weather: Extreme measures” in Nature News Published online 7 September 2011 | Nature 477, 148-149 (2011) | doi:10.1038/477148a

    Can violent hurricanes, floods and droughts be pinned on climate change? Scientists are beginning to say yes.

    When the weather gets weird, as happens a lot these days, one question inevitably arises from reporters, politicians and the general public alike: is this global warming?

    The question was asked after last year’s catastrophic floods in Pakistan and record-breaking heat wave in Russia. It was asked again this year about the freakish tornado clusters in the southeastern United States and the devastating drought in Africa. And it was asked yet again this August as Hurricane Irene roared up the US East Coast.

    For the most part, climate researchers have shied away from answering. Their mantra has been that science cannot attribute any particular drought or hurricane to climate change; the best it can do is project how the frequency of extreme weather events might change as the globe warms, through shifts in factors such as evaporation rates over the open ocean, water vapour and cloud formation, and atmospheric circulation.

    Lately, however, that reluctance has started to fade. “My thinking has evolved,” says Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeller at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. Thanks to advances in statistical tools, climate models and computer power, “attribution of extremes is hard — but it is not impossible”, he says. Two studies published last February in Nature showed links between extreme weather and climate change — one looking at the catastrophic flooding in the UK in 2000, the other at the late-twentieth-century increase in intense rainfall across the Northern Hemisphere.

    More (Click here)

    and an accompanying editorial “Heavy Weather (Click here)“.

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