Feeling the Heat of Climate Change Denial

As extreme weather patterns increase, it’s getting harder to ignore the connection to global warming.
Downed power lines in Huntington, Maryland after a massive storm swept through the region on July 1. (Mark Wilson/Getty)
Jul 5, 2012
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

Everyone talks about the weather. It’s one of those conversational niceties—a gateway into other more important matters. But we may want to actually start having a few really substantial discussions on the subject.

“According to some environmentalists and scientists, climate change was knocking down Washington’s door—and its power lines—this past weekend,” reported the National Journal. “The relentless heat wave hitting much of the country, the violent thunderstorms that heat wave in part caused on Friday, and the droughts and raging wildfires in Colorado and elsewhere have thrust to the forefront a cyclical debate about cause and effect: Is a warming Earth, caused by human activity, causing these extreme-weather events?”

They further noted that, “Climate and weather scientists are cautious about drawing a direct line from A to B, but most agree that a warmer planet will cause a higher frequency of extreme-weather events—even if you can’t scientifically prove that one single extreme-weather event is caused by climate change. It’s a subtle distinction and one that’s lost in Washington politics, where the debate boils down to black and white.”

While politicians continue their grandstanding on the subject, a majority of Americans “say the weather in the United States is getting worse and many report that extreme weather in their own local area has become more frequent and damaging. Further, large majorities believe that global warming made a number of recent extreme weather events worse,” according to a March 2012 study conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

Ben Orlove, an anthropologist and codirector of the Earth Institute’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, concurred with this viewpoint in a May 2012 interview. He stated, “There are many links between extreme weather events and climate change. We certainly know that the earth is warming. There are many lines of evidence: the temperature record, the records from thermometers around the world from 150 years, and indirect records that go back earlier point to the warming. It certainly stands to reason that as the world gets warmer we’re going to have more hot events.”

Indeed, recent examples of extreme weather patterns aren’t limited to the U.S. “Britain and northern Europe are dripping their way into what is already being called a ‘lost summer.’ We have had our wettest April and June and our coldest spring, and there is no end in sight of the abnormal weather,” noted The Guardian. “May was the second warmest ever recorded worldwide and the warmest on record for the northern hemisphere...There's always been freak weather, but climatologists increasingly think these events are becoming less unusual. Instead of taking place every 10 or 20 years, they are happening every two or three. This, they are beginning to say, is the new normal, a taste of the future as the planet warms.”

A recent article by Joe Romm of ThinkProgress adds a bit of gallows humor to the discussion. He posits that we’ve all become living crash test dummies, turning “ourselves into test subjects for the single most terrifying ‘crash’ the world will ever know—the crash of a livable climate.”

And in a column she wrote earlier today, Joan Goodman of The Guardian made a great observation, noting that, “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...The US news media have a critical role to play in educating the public about climate change. Imagine if just half the times that they flash ‘extreme weather’ across our TV screens, they alternated with ‘global warming.’ ”

Do you think there’s a connection between extreme weather and climate change?

Lawrence Karol is a freelance writer and editor who lives in New York City in a mid-century-modern-inspired apartment with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet editor, who enjoys writing about design, food, and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence

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