Blowing hot and cold on climate change
Climate-change deniers have shifted the international response to global warming. The new plan for humankind is adaptation
IT’S ALL happening in front of our eyes. The US is parched. More than half of its continental land area is affected by moderate to extreme drought after the warmest 12 months since records began, in 1895. The US National Weather Service issued excessive-heat warnings this month for parts of Arizona, Nevada and California: temperatures were forecast to hit 45 degrees in Phoenix, 45.5 degrees in Las Vegas and 51.6 degrees in Death Valley.
In Russia, a state of emergency was declared in the southern towns and cities of Krymsk, Novorossiysk and Gelendzhik after six months’ rain fell on the region in two days, causing devastating floods that killed at least 170 people and led to almost 3,000 being evacuated. On Thursday a report by climate-change strategists at HSBC bank said this extreme weather has “direct implications for agricultural production” and was already being reflected in higher commodity prices; in the US alone, corn production forecasts have been cut by 12.3 per cent.
Closer to home, it was reported that large parts of Cork city are now uninsurable because of the floodings of recent years, the latest at the end of last month. This week the Government approved a €10 million hardship fund for householders affected by the floods.
Although none of this extreme weather can be definitively attributed to global warming, it is all entirely consistent with the predictions of climate scientists going back many years that we would experience increasingly severe weather, including droughts, floods and heatwaves as a result of climate change.
This link is barely acknowledged, especially in the US. “The phrase ‘extreme weather’ flashes across television screens from coast to coast, but its connection to climate change is consistently ignored, if not outright mocked,” says Amy Goodman, an American columnist. As a result, “we may not act in time to avert even greater catastrophe.”
Earlier this month Prof Kevin Leyden of West Virginia University was at a lecture on climate change by the contrarian Dr Stephen Peck, who said it had “everything to do with the cycles of the sun” rather than anything we humans had done or were still doing. This very comforting view is a recipe for business as usual.
“I let him have it, but he said the IPCC” – the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – “is ‘full of priests’ etc,” says Leyden. “Turns out that most of the crowd were sympathetic to the ‘natural causes’ theory and [think] that we can wait and see if the ‘doomsayers’ are right – and then we can work on adaptation.”