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500? Perhaps in Dog Years?

June 14th, 2008 · 5 Comments

Have you noticed? Right now, much of Iowa and Midwest is suffering through a 500 year flooding event. Does it seem like 100 and 500 year events are becoming ever more frequent? If your answer is yes, your impression fits with the scientific analysis. Now, we have to be careful (extremely careful) in the face of denialist tendency to pounce on a single apostrophe or word out of place, but looking toward the changing weather events and their real impacts, you have to be a fool not to be scratching your head wondering whether there is something larger going on here. Now, as per always, it is near impossible to state that Iowa floods are hitting due to Global Warming. It is, however, reality that these floods are within the predictions for the types of weather events and extremes to be expected with ever increasing Global Warming.

As written for last year’s wildfires,

When discussing any particular disaster and its relationship to Global Warming, one needs to be cautious, to avoid saying “Global Warming caused X” as it is quite difficult to show a direct cause and effect relationship with a global trend to any particular activity. Thus, stronger storms are correlated with rising temperature which correlated with a storm like Katrina. Did Global Warming cause Katrina? Who knows? Was Katrina’s strength, differentiation from past storms, within what Global Warming analysis/modeling suggests could happen? Yes.

Well, be careful if anyone says that Global Waming “caused” the California fires. On the other hand, it seems clear that Global Warming is a contributing factor to the conditions in which the storms have occurred.

Repace “California fires” with “Iowa floods” and this statement remains true.

Sadly, in the face of denialist preparedness to pounce, with loud outrage, at anyone who suggests that a real-world event is (potentially) related to Global Warming, it is hard to find any prominent politician who or environmental organization that is making the linkage between Global Warming and the increasing risk for severe weather disasters as is what hitting Iowa farmers and citizens. (And, in fact, that will hit the rest of us as damage to farms will contribute to even higher food prices.) And, there is a quite understandable concern not to appear as if ‘disaster chasing’ with data about Global Warming’s implications. With each passing year and the continued warming of the Globe, the potential for such disasters increases. And, we need to discuss and understand these linkages and stopped having our collective heads buried in the sand.

Yes. YES!! There are other contributory elements from poor river management to building in flood zones to … But, Global Warming modeling suggests ever increasing seveve weather events, with large amounts of rain falling in short periods of time (while, of course, other areas go through droughts). The very sort of weather patterns that can contribute to major floods.

Matt Stoller has a powerful discussion of this in The Environmental Response: What floods?

Here’s an answer to a vexing question for lots of liberals. If you want to know why there is no action on global warming, do the following simple exercise. Turn on cable news right now, or do a Google News search for floods. Here are some news headlines you might find.

In Pictures, Iowa Floods from the BBC.

Wide Range Of Weather Ills Plague U.S. from the AP.

Flood waters, death toll rise after weekend storms from CNN.None of these stories mention climate change

“None … mention climate change.” It would be easy to blame journalistic weaknesses and failures. Haven’t they seen An Inconvenient Truth? Don’t they keep up with RealClimate and Climate Progess and the latest scientific studies? Why aren’t they doing their jobs, you might ask? However, disasters foster disaster response journalists. Don’t expect climate science experts to running the coverage. These journalists need help but the environmental organizations and political leaders don’t seem to be leaning forward to help these journalists understand how these weather extremes fit within what Global Warming is already doing to the planet and what it will do … if we don’t take action for change.

Back to Matt.

one would think the press would cover global warming in the context of extreme weather. Of course journalists don’t. But is this a media problem? Yes, but it’s not just a media problem. I looked at the home pages and press pages of the Sierra Club, NRDC, Environmental Defense, the League of Conservation Voters, and Al Gore’s We Can Solve It. The Sierra Club is asking for higher mileage standards on cars, NRDC is discussing lead and growing support for action on global warming, the League of Conservation Voters brags about its recent endorsement of Gabrielle Giffords, Environmental Defense asks for lower gas prices, and We Can Solve It puts its new ad front and center.

So yes, the media isn’t tying the Iowa floods to global warming. But then, neither are the major environmental groups. As these extreme weather events become more common due to global warming, there will be more competition to tie these events to climate change policy action, a sort of Shock Doctrine in reverse. One interesting irony is that Iowa is ground zero for these floods, and it was in Iowa where none of the major environmental groups backed a candidate – Ed Fallon – calling for a moratorium on coal versus conservative Democrat Leonard Boswell that wants to continue tax breaks for oil companies. Gore, of course, endorsed Boswell, and he and Tipper maxed out to him.

There are a variety of bloggers making the connections between Global Warming and the floods. This includes Grist, DemocraticOz at Dailykos and the Center for American Progress’s Wonk Room. Some of these best work in this arena is coming from Joe Romm at Climate Progress. Here are just a few of his (excellent) discussions:

  • Global Warming causes deluges and flooding, just like the Midwest is seeing
  • Global Warming will spawn severe storms
  • A deluge of extreme weather thanks to climate change
  • The rain in Spain ain’t
  • Australia faces the permanent dry as do we
  • NY Times blows the wildfire story
  • What is the lesson from all this? That Global Warming is changing the very nature of the climate and, as a result, is having and will have quite significant impacts on weather patterns and weather events. If we do not change from out ‘business as usual’, these impacts are almost certainly to worsen.

    And, with these impacts, perhaps the only way that floods like Iowas can be talked about as “500 year events” is if we are talking in dog years.

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    Tags: climate change · Global Warming · global warming deniers · journalism · politics

    5 responses so far ↓

    • 1 Paulidan // Jun 14, 2008 at 6:13 pm

      They did not mention it probably for the embarrassing fact that this is the coldest May since 1992 (eruption of Pinatubo) and last year had the largest temperature drop on record.

      And the ultimate inconvenient coincidence:

      You can’t run from the sun’s climate impact.

    • 2 A Siegel // Jun 15, 2008 at 8:07 am

      Paulidan — You are extremely tiring in your truthiness discussion, on multiple levels. You put out truthiness and incomplete information. Your material re sunspots is spurious (at best). For others who actually want to read something on this, see:

    • 3 A Siegel // Jun 16, 2008 at 10:11 am


      Another indication of truthiness and lack of truth in your postings:

      “Based on preliminary data, the globally-averaged combined land and sea surface temperature was the eighth warmest on record for May, the seventh warmest for boreal spring (March-May).” See:

      It is tiring having to factcheck you since your “facts” so frequently turn out to be truthiness and, even, factless.

    • 4 Wonk Room » Global Boiling: Climate Activists Call For Response To Extreme Weather // Jul 2, 2008 at 9:21 am

      […] nation, instead suppressing the research and letting polluters control policymaking. Now, spurred by activists, major environmental organizations are calling for […]

    • 5 Hill Heat : Environmental Organizations Call For Response To Extreme Weather // Jul 7, 2008 at 9:14 pm

      […] nation, instead suppressing the research and letting polluters control policymaking. Now, spurred by activists, major environmental organizations are calling for action. On June 19, Friends of the […]