April 9, 2010

Americans See Weather Trees, Miss Climate Forest
A favorite refrain of climate change writers is that no individual weather event can be definitively linked to climate change. To see what's going on in the climate, you have to look at trends. And evidence is now pouring in that global warming has already changed our climate (via Brad Johnson):
Catastrophic rainfall is increasing in the northeastern United States, a new climate change report has found. As New England residents continue the clean up from the latest round of disastrous flooding, researchers at the University of New Hampshire commissioned by Clean Air-Cool Planet found these calamities are part of a long-term trend of extreme precipitation. The region, like the planet in general, is warming, shifting precipitation into more extreme events. As weather patterns are increasingly shaped by manmade pollution, the climate change impacts in specific regions like the Northeast become more starkly evident:

One of the most obvious examples of these impacts is the increase in extreme precipitation events, which, combined with changes in land use, have led to an increase in freshwater flooding events across the region, exemplified by the "100-year" floods that have occurred in southern New Hampshire in 2005, 2006, 2007. And again in 2010, powerful nor'easters drenched the northeast with 3" to 8" of rain three times (late February, middle of March, and end of March) which resulted in significant flooding across the region.

Subsequent to the floods in New England, came a record-breaking 90 degree day on April 7 in Boston. That's bad enough, but when you learn that it was the "earliest" 90 degree day on record -- the "typical" first 90 degree day in Beantown doesn't happen until June 5 -- I think you have to admit that, while we may not be at a tipping point quite yet, we're listing dangerously toward hot.

The only thing more disturbing than these developments is the fact that here in the US we're not allowed to talk about them. And -- as with other signs of civilization like national paid parental leave policies, affordable health care and effective environmental regulation -- we're increasingly alone among nations (via Joe Romm):

Other countries don't have a problem explaining to the public that extreme weather is already becoming common, just as scientists said it would (see "Must re-read statement from UK’s Royal Society and Met Office on the connection between global warming and extreme weather"). Indeed, at the very same time all the U.S. records were being smashed, the UK's Guardian reported that China is taking action to deal with warming-driven extreme weather:

China will tomorrow start ramping up preparations for typhoons, dust storms and other extreme weather disasters as part of a 10-year plan to predict and prevent the worst impacts of climate change….

China has a long history of devastating floods and droughts, but officials said the problems were intensifying.

"It is necessary to respond to the new situation under climate change to avoid and mitigate the losses caused by meteorological disasters," said Gao Fengtao, deputy director of the state council’s legislative affairs office, as he unveiled the new policy.

In recent years, he said, disasters were characterised by "sudden occurrence, wider variety, greater intensity and higher frequency in the context of global warming".

But in this country, as I've noted many times, the anti-science disinformers try to shout down any talk of a link between climate change and extreme weather.

It may partially be due to the fact that the people we've put in charge of reporting the weather don't know which way the wind blows -- but it's pretty much censorship at this point. I used to think that having lived through nearly a decade of GOP mis-government meant we'd learned some lessons about the benefits of living in the "reality-based community." But it sure seems like we're headed right back down the rabbit hole again.

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