Extreme weather events have dominated the headlines in recent weeks. Raging wildfires in Colorado. A stifling heat wave across the midwest, the south and the east. Violent storms knocking out power to millions on the East Coast. This Reuters report asks us to think about the future.
(Reuters) - Scorching heat, high winds and bone-dry conditions are fueling catastrophic wildfires in the U.S. West that offer a preview of the kind of disasters that human-caused climate change could bring, a trio of scientists said on Thursday.
"What we're seeing is a window into what global warming really looks like," Princeton University's Michael Oppenheimer said during a telephone press briefing.
"It looks like heat, it looks like fires, it looks like this kind of environmental disaster ... This provides vivid images of what we can expect to see more of in the future."
In Colorado, wildfires that have raged for weeks have killed four people, displaced thousands and destroyed hundreds of homes. Because the winter snowpack was lighter than usual and melted sooner, fire season started earlier in the U.S. West, with wildfires out of control in Colorado, Montana and Utah.
The high temperatures that are helping drive these fires are consistent with projections by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said this kind of extreme heat, with little cooling overnight, is one kind of damaging impact of global warming.
Others include more severe storms, floods and droughts, Oppenheimer said...
Michael Oppenheimer is right—we can expect to see more of this in the future. But there comes a point, and I think we have reached it, where you've got the say the future has arrived. What we're seeing in the United States is not a preview of anything. This is it! It's happening! I mean, are we going to see stories like this in 2020? In 2030? Stories which say the future will be worse and what we're seeing is merely a preview? Screw that.
If you talk to a scientist, he will sternly tell you that no single weather event can be attributed to global warming. Of course he is correct. Climate is the statistical average of weather over time. Extreme events will occur more frequently on a warming planet yadda, yadda, yadda... And then this same scientist will ask for funding so he can study the longer term trends based on the historical data. Have extreme events indeed become more frequent? yadda, yadda, yadda...
So in 2020, and again in 2025, and again in 2030 scientists will release findings showing that yes, indeed, we have been subject to more extreme weather over the last 10, 20, 30 or 40 years. (These studies become more definitive the longer the study period is.) Naturally we're already seeing such studies. And others studies will show that changes in the Earth's hydrological cycle are intensifying, which leads to more extreme weather.
Explain the distinction between climate and weather to the dead guy who couldn't afford air conditioning. Explain it to the distraught couple whose house just burned down. Decades from now these sober but well-funded scientists will hold a press conference and announce to the expectant crowd—
Yes, our study leaves no room for doubt. It's official. We're fucked!
I'll tell you what—you are allowed to conclude now, as most Americans already have, that 1) we are having more extreme weather than we used to, and 2) anthropogenic climate change is the root cause of it. You are allowed to conclude now that we are fucked. If you happen to meet a climate scientist at a party, and he tells you with a straight face that we'll need to take an in-depth look at the trends to find out what's going on, you are allowed to laugh in his face and walk away. And be sure to have another drink.