Extreme Weather Linked to Man-Made Global Warming: Now What?

Crippling droughts, suffocating heat waves, and devastating floods—welcome to the rest of our lives.

Last April, a tornado demolished The Piggly Wiggly supermarket and Family Dollar store in Hackleburg, Alabama. (Photo: NWS Birmingham Alabama)

Jul 11, 2012· 1 MIN READ
The director of the Public Trust Project, Alison Fairbrother has written for Grist and Politics Daily, among others.

Climate change boosted the odds of the egregious weather that ran roughshod over the planet in 2011, according to a report released this week.

The National Climactic Data Center’s State of the Climate report, which was compiled by 48 scientists in 400 countries, found that the last 12 months in the mainland U.S. were the hottest since record keeping began in 1895. The kind of blistering heat we used to experience once every 20 years will now occur every two. A heat wave in Texas is now 20 times more likely that it was 50 years ago, for example.

MORE: Climate Change Is Screwing With Your Commute

The Washington Post’s Brad Plumer called attention to language in the report signaling that the odds of record U.S. heat being a “random” event were one in 1.6 million. Others researchers say the odds are more like one in 100,000.

Even so, that’s a one in 100,000 chance that the record temperatures scorching the country, killing crops, and claiming lives cannot be linked to global warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions. Those climate deniers are hanging their hats on pretty slim odds.

In 2011, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which The New York Times has called a “judicious group” (read: cautious), concluded that global warming will make heat waves, droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events a common occurrence.

These trends cannot be explained by natural variation. “Only with the inclusion of human influences can computer models of the climate reproduce the observed changes,” according to the website Climate Communication, which indexes leading scientific research on climate change.

If these statistics aren’t doing it, see for yourself. Mouse over to NASA’s Climate Time Machine, where you can watch the planet’s polar ice caps melting, track increases in carbon dioxide, witness sea levels rise, and see global temperatures increase in shades of orange and red.

When will we tally this abundant evidence, get off our sofas, and do something? Perhaps we need an iconic and gut-twisting photograph of freak weather: an image that awakens emotions and stirs people to action over the dangerous (and costly) warming of the planet.

Maybe it’s Colorado burning, or fallen trees from the derecho storm in the East? Maybe it’s the elderly who are suffering power outages in record heat, or the flooding of entire villages in Russia or Bangladesh?

When will we take those images and narratives, march to our leaders and say: We demand an end to fossil fuel subsidies? We demand investments in renewable energy and relief for those suffering as climate change refugees, lest there be more in the future. We will not settle for anything less.

What images of global warming have stirred you to action? What actions have you taken to reduce your carbon footprint?