Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Non-Missing Link

It was satisfying today to see in the Herald the front page, starting-above-the-fold news article about the connection between extreme weather and climate change (non-local link). It was dry and appropriately restrained, just as would be expected from something that is basically a summary of research and comments from climate scientists.

The main point is that "global warming" also means many places also see a tilting of the odds toward making extreme weather more likely.

It is good to see this presented because many will try to shoot down any connection between climate change and extreme weather with a simplistic claim that since there has always been extreme weather that climate change cannot be influencing its occurrence. The same sorts of people use the same incorrect logic attempting to dispute that humans are influencing climate now because climate has always changed naturally. Founder of Bill McKibben recently sarcastically attacked dismissal of climate change impacting weather.

Suppose you have a casino full of slot machines and someone goes in and tweaks the software to affect the payout frequency. Of course you cannot look at any single jackpot earned by some player and call that a direct result of that meddling - after all there were jackpots it. But just like it is "irresponsible not to mention climate change" when referencing extreme weather events, because of how the background state is being altered you cannot simply ignore the software rewrite when considering jackpots and collective payouts.

I think a lot people have gotten a pretty good understanding (or at least acceptance) of how El Nino and La Nina can drive a tendency toward seasonal weather leaning one way or another, like this region tends to be cooler and likely wetter during a La Nina winter such as 2010-2011.

The same principles of the weather being influenced, though not controlled or overwhelmingly dominated, apply with climate change. It makes sense then that people would similarly be able understand how climate change impacts (and will increasingly impact) the likelihood of extreme weather events.

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