Like billions of others around the world in recent years and this year, Americans have been experiencing “unprecedented” after “unprecedented” weather event. Along with my neighbors, in the Washington, DC, area, I have yet again battened down the hatches for an “unprecedented weather event” (Snowcapolyse, Derecho, Heat Waves, …) that has offices closed, kids home from school, potential power outages, and store shelves emptied. (Note: photo to the right is the grocery store closest to my home, with shelves emptied by people heeding warnings to be prepared for a multiple days without power.)
What we are seeing has been referred to as a ‘climate on steroids’. Bicyclists have won the Tour de France without using steroids but Lance Armstrong won seven with … Professional baseball players have wowed me with home runs without using steroids but flooded the stands with homers in the steroid era … Blizzards, wind storms, droughts, floods, hurricanes occurred throughout the millenia before humanity’s impact on the climate became significant but records are tumbling as humanity continues to pack the climate system with a variety of ‘steroids’, especially greenhouse gases from fossil fuel use.
Too few fundamentally understand the linkage between humanity’s activities and increasing climate disruption.
Too many people fail to understand how “unprecedented” after “record” after “unprecedented” weather event are within the predictions that have come from climate scientists, whose work to understand the impact of human activities on the climate lead us to an understanding that a warming planet will drive climate disruption.
One reason: meteorologists, weather forecasters, and TV weather reporters hesitancy to use the words “climate change” when discussing “unprecedented” weather events. This occurs for a variety of reasons:
- The difference between the immediacy of weather and the general trend of climate;
- The scientific challenge of “attribution”, as people tip toe around the issue because they don’t know how to express “it is hard to understand this weather pattern without including climate change, which has put a thumb the scales to create the conditions for worsening the event.”
- The reality that most people don’t think in a systems-of-systems manner and that human-driven climate change is simply a ‘factor’ influencing any specific weather event.
- The difficulty of injecting ‘long term’ issues into the discussion when seeking to warn people that it is time to empty the grocery store shelves.
- Meteorologists tendency to look to the problems of short-term weather forecasting models (and, as a consumer, when looking at “weather.com” stating that my zip code has a 15% chance of rain at that specific moment while looking outside the window and seeing a massive downpour) and falsely projecting this to assert problems in climate modeling. This is one of the reasons why too many weather forecasters deny the science related to climate change.
- Fear of vocal climate denialist attacks when a meteorologist speaks honestly and forthrightly about climate disruption to help people connect the dots.
Through 2012, with massive breaking of record hot temperature records, massive wildfires, substantial damage to the agricultural system due to droughts, the Derecho, and otherwise, a growing number of meteorologists have broken through the climate silence and forecast the facts.
And, this is true with Hurricane Sandy, as science-aware meteorologists help place Frankenstorm within a larger context. For example, on Friday, meteorologist Eric Holthaus wrote this amid a discussion of Sandy’s potential impact on New York City:
With National Geographic reporting that sea level rise is already accelerating at three to four times the global rate in the Northeast due to climate change, impacts are expected to be worse than if the same exact storm would have hit several years ago.
A simple truthful statement that helps inform people that climate change is increasing our risks from extreme weather events. It doesn’t take much to include truthful information about climate change in discussions of extreme weather events. While watching, with rapt concern about Sandy’s potential impact on my community, The Weather Channel, a notable item: zero discussion of climate change amid the fleeting leaps from one weather besieged reporter on a beach to another. The absence of comments like Holthaus‘ leave watchers, at best, partially informed. To discuss weather events as “unprecedented” and “record-breaking” without connecting the dots to climate change’s (pdf) influence on the situation does not represent truthful reporting.
Thus, you should consider as untruthful those who discuss (especially those who have the opportunity for long analytical discussions explaining events) extreme weather events without raising how humanity’s thumb on the scale through climate change.
The following video of the Queen of Denial seemed relevant for those meteorologists and weather forecasters who fail to discuss climate change (or, even worse, reject the global scientific consensus on the subject) …
NOTE: Highly recommended, Mike Tidwell, Hurricane Sandy: The worst-case scenario for New York City is unimaginable. Mike wrote most of this years ago and, like those who warned of potential hurricane impacts on New Orleans’ in the decades before Katrina, this merits reading even as we watch with concern Sandy’s impact on New York City. Also, Joe Romm, How Does Global Warming Make Hurricanes Like Irene More Destructive?