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Climate Change or Just Extreme Weather?
Climate Change - Twister Rips Through Southeast US
Climate Change, Really, You Think?
An online article in the Huffington Post recently discussed the plausible link between climate change and extreme weather, highlighting the devastating April tornadoes in the U.S. The article refers to the growing body of evidence that links extreme weather with changes in our atmosphere, primarily caused by human activity. What surprised me was the number of comments posted below the article that aggressively challenged the assertion that human activity has any correlation to climate change.
Many readers argued that the multiple extreme weather events seen around the world are unrelated and suggested that because extreme weather events receive more media coverage than ever before, the false impression that things are getting worse is created .
As I write, thousands are scrambling to escape the devastating Mississippi floods which are reaching historic levels. In recent weeks we saw the wreckage left in the wake of deadly tornadoes that swept through the southeast in the U.S – the highest number of twisters recorded for a single month ever. Early in the year 75% of Queensland in north-eastern Australia was declared a disaster zone after severe flash floods, which were soon followed by major floods in Victoria.
The rainy season is a full two months early here in Thailand and instead of cracks in the hard, dry ground there is an inch of rain water covering the lawn. All the while, about 25% of the contiguous U.S. fell in the moderate to extreme drought categories (based on the Palmer Drought Index) at the end of April, 2011. Globally, drought duration and intensity has seen a substantial rise over the past two decades and drought is often occurring in places that have historically received consistently substantial rainfall.
Last year, blizzards caused chaos over Christmas in the US and Europe and earlier in the year floods ravaged Brazil, Guatemala, South-East Mexico, Ecuador, and Pakistan causing landslides, and death and destruction on a major scale. In September, 2003, over ten thousand French died in a heat wave. To view a chronology of weather disasters of the 21st century you can visit Mapreport’s website.
Close Range Mississippi Tornado
Recent Weather Disasters
Climate Change: From Proof to Prevention
A report by the US Global Change & Research Program found that more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could lead to severe storm conditions that provide the perfect conditions for the formation of tornadoes. Scientists devoted to understanding climate have been telling us for years, in no uncertain terms, that human activity is changing the climate by trapping more energy within our atmosphere. This will logically lead to extreme weather events, more so than would otherwise have occurred without our influence. The scientific community knows and is alarmed by the reality of an exponential effect in climate change caused by man made changes to our atmosphere. These changes are manifesting as extreme weather and the death and destruction that it necessarily brings.
Work has already begun on the United Nation’s IPCC report,
‘Climate Change 2013’ – AR5- the fifth assessment report of its kind. Yet
governments and industry have yet to heed the findings of the ‘Climate Change
2007’ report. The climate change deniers continue to bark,
‘it’s too early to tell’, they attempt to debunk scientific findings and play on the idea that the costs of tackling climate change in hard
economic times is too high. Sure, there is a cost to tackling climate change, but the costs
to people and communities will be greater if we put our heads in the sand. We can expect more frequent and severe weather
disasters without fast and radical changes in our behavior en masse.
Here are a few realities of climate change from the IPCC 2007 report:
- There are indisputable and significant increases in average global air and ocean temperatures – it is 'extremely unlikely that this warming was due to natural climate change variability’.
- There is widespread melting of glaciers and a rapid reduction of the polar ice cap in the arctic, where temperature increases are rising twice as fast as the global average – this has far reaching implications for global conditions including rising sea levels that are already affecting low-lying areas as well as impacting ocean currents and weather systems which in turn may cause indiscriminate weather disasters and affect food supplies.
- The 11 warmest years on record have all occurred in the past 12 years.
- Methane and CO2 are at the highest levels for 650,000 years
- Extreme weather events have unequivocally become higher in frequency due to regional climate change patterns linked to human activity. Confidence in measuring, monitoring and predicting climate change has improved substantially with the use of more powerful computers, weather buoys and sophisticated models.
Here is a link to the full IPCC’S ‘Climate Change 2007’ report.
The relationship between rising sea levels and climate change is often confused. As the land and lower atmosphere of the world warm, heat is naturally transferred into the oceans. We all know that when materials are heated they expand (thermal expansion), so the heat that is transferred causes the sea water to expand, which in turn results in a rise in sea level. Water from land-based ice glaciers and ice sheets may enter the ocean, adding to the rise. It is a fact that no extra water is added to the oceans when ice floating in the ocean melts. As floating ice melts, it only replaces the volume of water that it originally displaced. People tend to underestimate the effect of rising sea levels. Weighted average projections estimate that by 2100, sea levels will have risen by about 50cm. In Australia that translates to a loss of coastline in the vicinity of 50 meters, which is actually a big deal. If you live in the Maldives you’re screwed.
Piers Forster, a leading atmospheric scientist and author warns “we have very high confidence that humans have had a warming influence since pre-industrial times”. He reports that the influence is gathering force as greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and other sources has pushed the CO2 levels up 20% in the last decade alone.
Deforestation of the Amazon
Now You See It - Now You Don't
Global deforestation alone is a disturbing phenomenon with massive implications for all life on this planet - on atmospheric, ecological, and economic levels. The importance of forests to life on Earth can’t be overstated and their clearing represents one of the most powerful forces in global environmental change. Forests are the greatest source of biodiversity as well as ‘the lungs of the world’ and when we start to mess with that - look out. Before the arrival of white man, almost 50% of the US and 75% of Canada were forested. Scientists estimate that about half of the world’s tropical forests have been destroyed and that without immediate global measures being taking to tackle the problem, by 2030, only 10% will remain. Our determination to rely on the forests for fuel, building materials and to clear land for farming has changed the face of the planet to an extraordinary degree in a very short space of time.
Books on Environmental Issues
Climate Change Deniers
Yet still we have the doubters – the climate change deniers claiming that we should put aside our histrionics and rest assured that everything is just fine and that natural fluctuations in weather have been blown out of context- it's a conspiracy, another fear tactic to manipulate we, the sheep - not this time, cynic of authority though I am. Attempts have been made to confuse the public and seed doubts about the strength of evidence that climate change is a human caused phenomenon that needs to be urgently addressed.
Money talks – the big insurance companies, particularly re-insurers, are now getting behind the movement to reduce the causes of climate change in response to the massive payouts related to weather disasters. They have a major vested interest in climate change – in the trillions. The claims made on insurance policies in just one week after the recent tornadoes that hit Alabama alone were well over 2 billion dollars. The US has been hit with five major weather disasters already this year – each costing over a billion dollars. This is a record for the highest-cost weather events ever, this far into the year. Insurers are all about profit and mitigating risk and that means taking action to reduce the incidence of extreme weather and therefore reducing the causes of climate change.
A show of commitment to make real efforts to intelligently and
responsibly address climate change as well as the general destruction of our
planet have been poor to say the least. Governments and industry around the
world have been slow to act and time, the scientists caution us, is not a luxury we
have given the projections. As the climate community put it, “the dice are loaded”
– and without fast action they will continue to be rolled; weighted in favor of
more extreme weather, death and destruction. Recent events should give us pause to fully
consider what effect our presence on this planet has had in just the past 100
years, while other species have thrived for many millions.