Stop pretending it’s not climate change
2011 is further proof that a new era of extreme weather is dawning -- and it's about to get much, much worse
“All I know is this didn’t happen when we were kids.”
That’s how Brian Williams tagged a recent NBC Nightly News report on this year’s extreme weather. Floods, droughts, wildfires and tornadoes dominated the news many nights in 2011. Even this week, weather forecasters are keeping tabs on reports from coastal villages in Alaska, like Kivalina, which is under a coastal flood warning from “one of the most severe storms on record” packing hurricane-force winds while it pushes up the Northwest Alaska coast. Lack of protective Arctic sea ice – which is disappearing because of climate change – is making the surge from storms like this more dangerous. Kivalina’s very existence is threatened due to flooding and erosion fueled by climate change, and the Native Alaskan community struggles to relocate. It’s no wonder the Inuit have a word for the changing weather — “uggianaqtuq” — which roughly translates into “stranger.” As in “the weather has become a stranger.”
The big question is, why has the weather become so strange? Is extreme weather like a heart attack (as my Climate Central colleague Mike Lemonick recently suggested in his Op-Ed in the LA Times) or bad credit, symptomatic of our own bad choices? Is this recent run of extreme weather somehow our fault?
The fact is: Human-caused climate change has increased the odds of extreme, even unprecedented weather events. Senior scientist Jerry Meehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) puts it this way, “Just as steroids make a baseball player stronger, and increase his chances of hitting home runs, greenhouse gases are the steroids of the climate system.” So in the case of climate, the extra juice (greenhouse gases, not performance-enhancing drugs) doesn’t result in more home runs but in the greater likelihood that heat waves and other forms of extreme weather will occur.
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