Opinion by Eugene Robinson
July 21, 2021
photo above: Pyrocumulus clouds rise above the Bootleg Fire near Klamath Falls, Ore., on July 14. (Mason Trinca for The Washington Post)
WN: Indeed . . .
We are fiddling while the world burns. And floods. And chokes. And maybe even careens past some kind of unforeseen climate change tipping point that will make what are now extreme weather events devastatingly commonplace.
World Weather Attribution, an international group of leading climate scientists, concluded in a new study that the recent deadly heat wave in the Pacific Northwest — which broke all-time high temperature records not in tiny increments, which is how that almost always happens, but by as many as 4 or 5 whole degrees Celsius — would have been “virtually impossible without human-caused climate change.”
That’s bad enough, but what follows in this analysis is worse. Please stay with me while I quote it at length, because the scary part comes at the end:
“The observed temperatures were so extreme that they lie far outside the range of historically observed temperatures. This makes it hard to quantify with confidence how rare the event was. In the most realistic statistical analysis the event is estimated to be about a 1 in 1,000 year event in today’s climate.
“There are two possible sources of this extreme jump in peak temperatures. The first is that this is a very low probability event, even in the current climate which already includes about 1.2°C [almost 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit] of global warming — the statistical equivalent of really bad luck, albeit aggravated by climate change. The second option is that nonlinear interactions in the climate have substantially increased the probability of such extreme heat, much beyond the gradual increase in heat extremes that has been observed up to now. We need to investigate the second possibility further, although we note the climate models do not show it.”
Note the phrase “nonlinear interactions.” The possibility the authors raise is that the warming we have already caused may have somehow triggered sudden and unpredictable changes in weather patterns, including the frequency and intensity of extreme events.
Michael E. Mann, director of Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science Center, told CNN that “the signal is emerging from the noise more quickly” than climate scientists’ models predicted. “The signal is now large enough that we can ‘see’ it in the daily weather.”
It’s clear to me that we are now at the point where the old disclaimer about not being able to ascribe any specific weather event to climate change no longer applies in the way it used to. Thousand-year floods or fires or storms are supposed to be, by definition, rare. When they happen in bunches, all around the world, obviously something is going on.
The question is: What, precisely?
Please click on: Fiddling While World Burns