When I woke up this morning, determined to write something quick and angry about extreme weather events, it was to discover, great minds etc, that Bill McKibben had been similarly provoked, and had the advantage of time zones over me.
I don’t know what drove Bill over the edge. Perhaps it was the US media being more interested in getting a “revised” prophecy of the date of the “rapture” from that vicious old fool, not content with the damage already done to his weak-minded followers, Harold Camping, than to talking about the climate change already afflicting our planet.
For me it was this article that sent me hot foot to the keyboard. Where Steve Connor, “science editor” for the Independent recorded “It is estimated that this April alone there were something like 600 tornadoes in the US. Scientists are not sure why this year has been such a record tornado year but one suggestion is that there has been a particularly strong jetstream blowing over the North American continent” before concluding “There is no evidence so far that the record number of tornados have anything to do with climate change. However, some experts believe they may become more frequent”.
Maybe it wasn’t the hapless Connor though, I had been primed earlier by the usually excellent Ben Eltham who said “Flannery, for instance, showed admirable restraint last night on 7.30 as the ABC’s Chris Uhlmann asked a series of irrelevant questions about tropical cyclones.”
We (and by “We” I mean those of us in the reality-based world of science) have done the world a disservice I’m afraid. Oh with the best possible intentions, but you know what they say – the road to a 6 degree warmer world is paved with good intentions.
No, I am being a bit too kind there. What has actually happened is that we allowed ourselves to be sucked in by the climate change deniers. It was as if they had challenged Roger Federer to a tennis match and then said, at the last moment, “oh, of course we won’t be using rackets and balls, we are going to throw gum boots”.
You see every time in the last ten years there has been an extreme weather event, a record-breaking weather event, something so far out of the ordinary as to be noteworthy, newsworthy, so extreme as to kill many people, destroy towns and lives, the deniers have screamed “don’t you dare to try to blame that on global warming”. And we haven’t. Backed away muttering oh so politely (politeness reigns on this side of the looking glass world) “good heavens no, wouldn’t dream of it, no, no, can’t attribute individual events to global warming, oh my goodness gracious no, that would be very naive, going beyond the evidence, we just aren’t that kind of people.”
Well, true enough. No sorry, let me start again. Well, true. Was the town of Joplin, Missouri destroyed by global warming? Would there have been a tornado anyway? As strong a tornado, as devastating? Who knows. Not the question, never was the question. Sorry, just a moment, I can hear the chorus again “Don’t you try to make political capital out of people’s misery you bastard, typical extreme greenie”. I am supposed to take this as the final word, and once upon a time, in Kansas, I would have done so. But we are not in Kansas any more, time the wicked witch was flattened under a collapsed house.
We went you see from agreeing with the self-evident proposition that an individual event wasn’t caused by global warming to refusing to talk about extreme weather at all. “OK you guys” we said “we won’t talk about droughts and floods and storms. Don’t need to, the planet is slowly warming at a steady but slowish rate, sea levels likewise, ocean acidity as well, ice melting ditto. All we need to do is tell you that if things keep going the way they are (I mean you can all read graphs, right?) in 100 years time things could be very uncomfortable for us all”. There, that should do the trick.
In the mean time the deniers (remember Federer and gum boots) were busy doing exactly the reverse. Claiming that every cold day in Oklahoma was evidence against global warming, every warm period was just El Nino, oh and didn’t we know that the Chinese had sailed across the Arctic Ocean in 1421 and had a fireworks display at the North Pole. By agreeing not to mention the weather (“don’t mention the weather”), that is the manifestation of climate that actually affects the public on a day to day basis, we have made absolutely certain that the public will remain blissfully unaware, so many frogs in a pond, that the evidence of their eyes and other senses (including their common sense) is not to be believed. If the scientists won’t say that extreme record-breaking events are the result of global warming, and the deniers are saying they are not, then there is really no contest of ideas. Are we geting tornados and droughts and floods because of global warming? Course not, but in spite of what people like Barnaby Joyce (“look, it’s raining, we were told there would be droughts”) say, that was never the question. “Are we getting stronger, more damaging, longer lasting, more frequent extreme weather events that keep breaking records because of global warming?” “Yes of course we are, you some kind of idiot, what did you think?”
Until we start explaining to people that global warming is going to hit home, is hitting home already, right where they live, we have lost the battle. Lost indeed the war.
Well I mentioned the weather, but I think I might have got away with it.