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Hansen: Harsh Weather Shows Evidence of Effects of Climate Change

James Hansen, the climate scientist who first alerted the world that we might have a planetary warming problem, noted over the weekend that we’re already seeing the effects.

My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.

In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.

This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.

This is a good companion piece to Bill McKibben’s story on global warming’s “terrifying new math.” McKibben details how much carbon we would have to refrain from burning in order to keep the temperature below an unmanageable level. Hansen shows us what “unmanageable” means in real time. The extreme weather events of the past decade or so can only be explained by climate change, according to Hansen. The odds of hot summers and droughts and scorching days coming with this degree of frequency are impossible without a warming planet. He describes it as loading the climate dice, reducing the variability of the weather because of the upward pressure on temperatures. It will just range from hot to very hot rather than hot to cold.

Republican lawmakers, who have fashioned themselves climate skeptics, thoroughly reject this, even when confronted with the evidence. And I don’t think there’s much hope of that changing in the near term. It’s not even being bought and paid for by the hydrocarbon extraction industries, it’s as much about a worldview that has put science in a partisan position, arguing that they have a hidden agenda and that smart and savvy people know better than to fall for their schemes. Therefore an appeal cannot be made to the evidence, because the skeptics do not agree and will not agree on a common set of facts, preferring to see them as propaganda. No amount of evidence will change this in the near term; if acres and acres of corn rotting in the heat, or hundreds of miles of wildfires in dry areas cannot convince them, nothing will.

My advice to you is to buy some property in Newfoundland, it should be balmy there in 20 years or so.

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David Dayen

David Dayen