Photo by Abby.Houser via flickr
Yes, there is a direct correlation between climate change and the extremely hot summer of the last several years! It is official. So why is it so difficult for some folks to see the forest through the trees? A recent journal article submitted by James Hansen and his colleagues, Makiko Sato and Reto Ruedy, explains.
“Perceptions of Climate Change” is anchored in recent data. The authors used climate data from 1951-2010, consciously avoiding cumbersome climate models. The article clearly highlights stark changes in overall global climate between the timeframes of 1951-1980 and 1981-2011. Summers are indeed getting hotter.
These new extreme summer temperatures are important and also more obvious for the public to observe. “These anomalies practically did not exist in 1951-1980, but in the past several years the extreme anomalies have covered the order of 10% of the land area.” This heat is becoming a widespread phenomenon, even if it is still an anomaly. The authors conclude that without global warming, it would have been very unlikely that recent events, like Texas’ drought in 2011 or Moscow’s hottest summer in history that occurred in 2010, would have even happened.
And if the current rate of carbon emissions and global warming continues, these anomalies will become the norm. And that new reality will make the consequences of global warming more visible to the public, right?
Yes and no. If you have been paying any attention to the media over the last few years, you know that it is easier to convince the public that global warming is the cause of triple-digit heat waves than of its ability to increase the strength of winter blizzards. While this is the challenge that Hansen and his colleagues want to address, it seems as though we can continue to expect climate change consciousness waiver with the seasons.
That does not mean that winter does not show the effects of global warming, though. On the contrary. As the atmosphere warms, it can hold more water vapor, thus increasing fuel for potential storms – including blizzards as long as the temperature remains cold enough for snow. But the general public tends to “equate heavy snowfall with harsh winter conditions, even if temperatures are not extremely low.” There is a disconnect between the public’s concept of what the consequences of global warming and what the consequences really are.
So, right now, the authors agree the “greatest barrier to public recognition of human-made climate change is probably the natural variability of local climate.” But climate change deniers will be unable to avoid the truth much longer. In fact, the authors argue “that a perceptive person old enough to remember the climate of 1951-1980 should recognize the existence of climate change, especially in summer.” As these extremely hot summers and moist winters become increasingly common, the contrast between past and present climate will become clear. The proof will be demonstrated in our day-to-day experience.
Hansen and his colleagues do not provide activists with a strategy to convince climate change deniers. But then again, it seems as though there is no real need to “convince” the public of anything. As time goes on, we will continue to experience global climate change. It is a matter of keeping and sharing records, now, of high temperatures, intense blizzards, floods, and droughts. Collectively and individually, we must remember how it once was, and not deceive ourselves by thinking that these increasingly extreme weather events are “normal.” We are not prepared for life on that planet, yet.