I haven’t written an editorial for work for a while, but this one meshed ended up being really timely. In summary – is climate change causing more floods, hurricanes and catastrophes? Right now, maybe. In the future, definitely.
Attributing Extreme Climatic Events to Climate Change
We’ve heard plenty about the extreme weather events of the past few years, including the recent UK floods (the worst since 1947), the ongoing Australian drought, Hurricane Katrina, the European heat wave of 2003, and more. Climate scientists have had to work long and hard to be confident that climate change, on a global level, is due to our emissions of greenhouse gases. However, can we blame these specific extreme events upon this change? It’s only human to look for explanations of what used to be called Acts of God, but is it scientifically justified?
The answer you’ll get depends upon which scientists you ask. The CSIRO’s position is that the Australian drought is down to natural variation, whereas the Australian Bureau of Meteorology have stated that the high temperatures, at least, are an effect of climate change.
Other researchers have enough confidence in the models to state how human influence on the climate is increasing the probability of these extreme events. For instance, the 2003 heatwave killed several tens of thousands in Europe. Peter Stott’s research from the UK Hadley Centre suggests that human activity has more than doubled the chance of more heatwaves occurring.
Doing this for extreme temperatures is easier than doing this for extreme rainfall, but Oxford’s Myles Allen believes that climate modelling is sufficiently advanced to start describing the current effects of climate change on the chances of flooding. In the UK, that is understandably a hot topic.
What we can clearly say is that climate change from whatever cause, including but not limited to our emissions of greenhouse gases, implies such extreme events will occur more frequently in the future. That’s a far more important finding than discussing the attribution of causes to specific events.
Doom, with body parts for scale
Now, are we doomed? Or are we responding sensibly to this threat by being all efficient and not wasteful? How could we tell? Let’s look at packaging, and draw a moral conclusion about the nature of humanity, coz, you know, it’s a morning and I’m grumpy.
Yup, scientific measurement and calculation reveals that the packaging is 4000 times bigger than things. From this I conclude that we are doomed.