Posted by Jonathan Parfrey on September 29, 2017
- Extreme Hurricanes – Caribbean
- Extreme Flood – Texas
- Extreme Drought – Dakotas
- Extreme Wildfire – Intermountain West
- Extreme Heat – New York, Europe, Australia
- Extreme Locusts, Lice and Frogs – ancient Egypt
The first five events are quite recent. Over the past month, the media has asked if Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria can be attributed to human-induced climate change.
It’s the wrong question.
It’s like asking if Barry Bonds’ May 7, 2006 home run, a towering 450-foot drive, can be attributed to steroids.
Now, Barry Bonds is arguably the most talented person to ever play baseball. He was a star before he experimented with performance-enhancing drugs.
In the same way, the Earth’s talent for destruction has always been here. There’s nothing new about hurricanes, flood, drought, and heat waves. But we need to come to grips with the fact that our atmosphere has been “juiced” by chemicals borne of the prodigious burning of fossil fuels over the past 150 years. Our present-day climate is different than the climate of pre-industrial times.
It strikes me as quixotic to quantify the exact additive effects of CO2 in the natural weather scheme, just as we cannot say Bonds’ homer was a result of his talent or his drug use (or both).
Climate change is not the only way in which the Earth has been violently altered in the modern era. The detonation of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere from 1945 to 1980 altered the Earth’s background radiation. According to the National Academy of Sciences, these atomic explosions caused tens of thousands of additional cancer deaths.
Yet the victim of H-Bomb-induced cancer will never know the true origin of their disease. And that’s largely true for other cancers as well. Did cosmic radiation do it? Or was cancer triggered by cigarette smoke? Or was it smog? Attribution is tough — but epidemiological sciences do point to an effect. Science can find signs of impact — but they’re rarely specific.
So let’s not get dragged into a false debate, trying to attribute events to climate change. It’s this simple: 1) Human-induced climate change didn’t exist before. 2) It does now. 3) Climate change has become a priori. It just is.
Forget attribution. It’s time to make your contribution. Now that I think of it — you can always contribute to Climate Resolve’s superb ongoing work.