Get Energy Smart! NOW!

Blogging for a sustainable energy future.

Get Energy Smart!  NOW! header image 2

Start saying everything is related to #climate change. Just start it.

January 1st, 2016 · 3 Comments

Simply put, amid weather extremes occurring within a climate change(d) world, too many are not connecting the dots as to the relationship between climate change and the hottest year on record/North Pole warmth/Mississippi flooding/flowers in a DC garden on New Year’s day/…. This is a repost of a 2011 piece (that has a rich 290 comment discusion thread).  Some recent discussions sparked a  reread and reconsideration of the post and the comments. Sadly, as per reposting below, it is sadly too relevant today.

As the hottest year in recorded history closes (surpassing 2014’s record and with 2016 being predicted to being even hotter) with a series of extreme(ly unusuable, record-breaking) weather events/patterns, it is astounding how rarely media outlets & meteorologists connect these to climate change (an example from my breakfast table: this recent Washington Post front page story on December’s heat).While fully capable of doing so, “the media” does not treat climate change as seriously as it/they did Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress. Some do this out of ignorance (not making the connections or thinking ‘oh, everyone knows what is going on, why bother or I wrote about climate last month, there is no reason to repeat things over again) and some do this from direct climate-science denial.  No matter what the ’cause’, the reality is that this is a disservice to public understanding and public discourse of what likely is the defining public policy issue for the century (if not centuries) to come.

To be clear, as discussed below, it would be incorrect to state bluntly: “Climate change has caused X or Y extreme weather event”.  However, it is simply as (actually, arguably more) erroneous  — without some serious science behind it — to assert the reverse. The truth, in situation after situation, is that climate change is impacting (has a role) in extreme weather situation after weather event. Simply put, in our climate change(d) world, every square inch of the earth and every cubic centimeter of the atmosphere has been impacted by humanity.  “Weather” is not occurring, any longer, outside a context of climate change.

The absence of climate change from media examinations of weather extremes has moved past potentially understandable oversight to, increasingly, what might be referred to as ‘journalistic malfeasance’.  Editors and journalists should read and consider seriously these New Year’s resolutions for reporting on climate.

In simple truth, it has now become impossible to discuss responsibly weather patterns and events without putting it in the context of climate change (climate disruption / global warming). As per Bill McKibben’s Eaarth and the scientific move to the term Antropocene era, we have fundamentally altered the planetary system.     Thus, while it is absolutely true that it remains (and likely will remain) impossible to say “X” event occurred “because of” global warming, it is also true that global warming is now a factor (among many other factors) that impact weather events — all weather events.

Weatherdude posted one of those massively explosive discussions.  Stop saying everything is because of climate change. Just stop it. had 447 comments with hundreds of recommendations.  Simply put, that is a travesty even though there is truth to this statement:

Please, for the love of FSM, stop trying to link every extreme to climate change. The ice caps are melting, the oceans are rising, and all sorts of other scary shit is happening, but not every single event is due to the climate’s change. If all of this stuff is happening due to climate change, we don’t yet have the trends to back it up. Wait until we do. Until then, warn about the dangers of climate change, don’t say everything happened because of it.

In addition to truth, there is also what seems to be concern trolling (see note at end of post) — there is a difference between connected to and caused by.

From the title on, this reader (not for one) saw that post as concern trolling

Stop saying everything is because of climate change. Just stop it.

When it comes to climate disruption, knowledgeable people do not generally run out and say “global warming caused this tornado” or “we wouldn’t ever have had this flood without global warming“.  Sure, those statements occur … but relatively rarely and are not heard from credible voices (outside cheery-picked quotes). Far more frequent and typical is to have a rash of 100-year and 500-year events (floods and droughts and fires and …), a series of disruptive weather events out-of-pattern with historical events in an area, a rash of heat records being broken, etc … without climate change or global warming ever being mentioned.

No, global warming isn’t the determinate of any and all weather.

Clearly, the earth still orbits around the sun, January and July have different temperatures, etc … There are many, many factors that coalesce and influence weather patterns.

For example, re tornados and damage, let’s just talk about direct human activity (without getting into the complexity of global warming):

  1. More population, more spread out — greater likelihood that someone gets hurt/killed even with zero change in the number and strength of tornadoes.
  2. Related to above — ever more physical footprint (buildings, roads, transmissions lines, etc) means increased likelihood of fiscal damage.
  3. Better scientific instruments (and more spread out population) means that we should, writ large, be better at data collection and will have (therefore) more reported tornados.
  4. FAR LESS CERTAIN and a substantiated hypothesis: human land use could be having an impact on local-weather conditions / patterns enough to influence (in some cases .. maybe) tornados formation (think urban heat islands … and whether several degrees would matter within larger weather pattern)
  5. Etc …

Similar lists could be generated for wildfire, river flooding, hurricane damage, storm weather surges, droughts, etc …

There are many factors that influence weather events. Among them: climate disruption. We are now, however, in a situation where failure to discuss whether and how climate change / global warming / climate disruption could be a contributing factor would be, well, gross negligence.

Of course, as Weatherdude emphasizes, weather is events and climate trends. “Weird” weather events have happened, it seems, throughout Earth’s history.  There were 2-inch rainfalls in a day 50 years ago (when Co2 count was about 300 ppm) in my area — there are far more and these are a far greater share of total rainfall today.  Thus, a big thunderstorm that knocks out my power isn’t “because of” climate change but it is reasonable to discuss the increasing frequency of more severe storms within the context of climate disruption (and a Co2 count of about 394).  (PS: And, of course, the local doesn’t prove global … And, of course, decisions about tree trimming, whether to have power lines above or below ground, maintenance schedules, etc all are major players as to whether the power goes out …)

To me, Stop saying everything is because of climate change. Just stop it. was a travesty — even as there are elements within that are correct and with which I agree — because it contributes to a ‘don’t discuss it because you don’t have 100% proof of 100% causality’-type argument favored by those seeking to forestall action no matter that the author comments within the diary “I believe that climate change is real.” (Note “believe”: there is a problem of using the term “belief” related to science.)    No, climate disruption is not “the” reason for any specific weather event but, no, we don’t have the decades to wait until the evidence is in.

SIGH … TO BE CLEAR .. A NOTE FOR CLARITY. Writing that some of a discussion reads like concern trolling is not (and is not meant as) an attack on another’s character or capability or value or ….  This post began, with reason, pointing out that there was “truth in …”  And, while highlighting my arenas of disagreement, the final paragraph includes “even as there are elements within that are correct and with which I agree”.  This post points to  an — important — arena of disagreement as how to discuss a critically important issue.

UPDATE:  Jeff Masters’ piece Unprecedented: Simultaneous January Named Storms in the Atlantic and Central Pacific provides a textbook example of how to incorporate global warming & climate in extreme weather event reporting. That post ends:

Alex’s genesis
Alex can trace its genesis to an area of low pressure that formed off the Southeast U.S. coast on January 7. Between January 8 and 12, pre-Alex tracked generally eastwards over ocean waters that were 22 – 25°C (72 – 77°F); these temperatures were near-record warm for this time of year (about 2 – 4°F above average). These temperatures were just high enough so that Alex was able to gradually gain a warm core and become a subtropical storm. It is unlikely that Alex would have formed if these waters had been close to normal temperatures for this time of year. The unusually warm waters for Alex were due, in part, to the high levels of global warming that brought Earth its warmest year on record in 2015. Global warming made Alex’s formation much more likely to occur, and the same can be said for the formation of Hurricane Pali in the Central Pacific. To get both of these storms simultaneously in January is something that would have had a vanishingly small probability more than 30 years ago, before global warming really began to ramp up.

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: climate disruption · Global Warming · journalism · media · weather

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Richard Mercer // Jan 1, 2016 at 9:27 pm

    Thank you. Well done. I keep explaining the same ideas in comments at various articles at NPR, Scientific American etc., and on Facebook. I’ve saved the link.

  • 2 Kudos to WaPo Weather Editor Jason Samenow; Now What About Doug Hill, Topper Shutt, Amelia Segal, etc?!? – BVimport3 // Feb 5, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    […] P.S. For examples of the Capital Weather Gang at its worst, see Shhh … when it comes to #weather/#climate links, nothing to be seen here (@WashingtonPost edition). Also see Start saying everything is related to #climate change. Just start it.. […]

  • 3 Boiling India: some quick perspectives // May 20, 2016 at 8:41 am

    […] the generalized media mediocrity in terms of accurately discussing extreme weather within a climate-change context, this article introduced me to a new form of implicit climate denial. Rather that this heat wave […]