Extreme weather events are where the climate change rubber hits the road, and if events over the last month are anything to go by, global warming is currently doing doughnuts and burnouts on tarmac right round the globe. Kevin Trenberth put it rather nicely in an interview with PBS Newshour in the US: “This is a view of the future, so watch out.” John Vidal in The Guardian sums up the situation rather well:
…how much more extreme weather does it take for governments and individuals to act, or for the oil companies to withdraw from the Arctic, or the media to link global warming with the events now being witnessed around the world? Must the sea boil, the Seine run dry, New York flood and the London Olympics be consumed by fire before countries are shocked into taking concerted action?
Damn good question.
Let’s review the recent evidence. The extraordinary heatwave in the USA, coupled with horrendous forest fires, occurring in parallel with torrential rainfall and flooding and a rare but incredibly fierce derecho event1, has been making all the headlines, but the rest of the world has also been suffering. In India, heavy monsoon rains have drowned Assam, killing 77 people and driving over two million people from their homes. Britain and much of Europe has had a record wet spring and early summer. Huge forest fires have been burning in Siberia, and the Arctic sea ice is in record low territory for the time of year. It’s on track for a new record minimum come September2.
All of these events are taking place in an atmosphere that has already changed. Weather is being generated in a measurably different context to the recent past. There’s more water vapour — 4% more, globally, since the 1970s — available to drive storms and fall as rain. The retreat of sea ice in the Arctic is changing seasonal surface to atmosphere energy flows dramatically. As a consequence, northern hemisphere weather patterns are changing.
The atmosphere has already changed, and with it, our climate. Climate change is not some far off thing we can chose to ignore: it’s happening now. It’s here. Weather extremes are the most visible symptom of these changes, the most dramatic of near term impacts. Current events should be driving us towards taking action, but instead we have politicians paying lip service to reality while doing nothing of substance.
Bill McKibben got close to the truth in a piece earlier this week, in which he finally exposed climate change as a hoax:
It looks real, but it isn’t—it’s just nature trying to compete with James Cameron. So please don’t shout fire in the global 3-D theater. Stay cool. And get a big tub of popcorn—in this epic disaster flick we’re not even close to the finale.
Bill’s “hoax” may have been tongue in the cheek, but he’s right about the ending. We ain’t seen nothing yet3.