28 July 2007

Welcome to our new reality

Just a bit of weather news from this week...

In its second heatwave this summer temperatures in Greece soared to 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) this week, following an earlier heatwave in June which set a new 110-year record of 46C.

Record temperatures this month have caused up to 500 deaths in Hungary, put 19,000 Romanians in hospital and triggered forest fires across Bulgaria.

And Britain saw this week its worst floods in 60 years, which have left about 350,000 people without running water.

But is it global warming?

The wildfires in Europe aren't simply confined to Bulgaria...In fact, as witnessed by NASA satellites, the fires are worse further to the west. See here also.

And as suggested by the title, it is not simply Europe...

Rescuers dropped relief supplies to hundreds of people in Indonesia's Sulawesi island on Friday after days of torrential rain triggered landslides and floods.

Floodwaters have poured into or destroyed more than half a million homes in India's northeast in the past couple of days, officials said on Wednesday.

On the Iran-Afghanistan border, a large dust plume has been observed.

Source points for the storm appear in an area known as the Hamoun wetlands, once an oasis for people and wildlife. By the start of the twenty-first century, a combination of expanded irrigation and severe drought had sucked the region dry, and winds that had once been cooled by wetland water began blowing dust.

The western United States has also been suffering through extreme drought and numerous wildfires, with Utah experiencing it largest ever wildfire at 363 000 acres (147 000 ha). See also here and here, for example.

So what is going on here? These sorts of events, occurring simultaneously, are extremely unusual. Or is this simply a reflection of increased information awareness? Have these sorts of events always gone on simultaneously, and we have never put the pieces together until now? I find that unlikely, at least for the last 10-20 years or so. And even beyond that, people had some inkling of what was going on in the wider world.

Is it just part of the vagaries of the normal chaos of weather, as the Deniers would have us believe? The usual method of blaming it all on El Nino is not valid this time. We are currently experiencing neutral to weak La Nina conditions. Besides, ENSO has been showing its own erratic behaviour for the last 20 years or so itself.

Or is it climate change? In a statistical sense, we cannot say with absolute certainty. These events are certainly consistent with the expected impacts of climate change. But perhaps similar weather happened before we took consistent global observations. We just don't know for sure, but I have my doubts about this. There is only so far these sorts of rationalizations can take you before they become ridiculous.

Even on the off chance that these events are not related to anthropogenic climate change, they are the harbinger of things to come. We should take these events and learn from them, as a model of what to expect more frequently in the future. 2007 is on track to be the second warmest year on record. We need to start getting serious about adaptation to and mitigation of climate change if humanity is to survive and thrive. This sort of weather is soon likely to be our everyday reality.

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