The Relative Comment

soothing waves of relativity

There’s nothing to worry about here.

with one comment

It is accurate, and cautiously appropriate, to refrain from finding climate change as the cause of individual weather events. No specific hurricane, for example, or tornado, can reliably hold itself up as evidence that climate change is happening. Because weather and climate are not the same thing.

It is also accurate that climate change affects weather. Today, folks in the major media environments seem a bit too over-eager NOT to discuss the link between climate and weather, especially as we have seen a rash of summer storms and tornadoes that have been severe, especially in terms of human life. It is exasperating, one might say, that too many in the science and climate arenas can no longer boldly proclaim that climate change does cause increases in the number and severity of extreme weather events. At least, not if they want to be on the major networks or cable channels (the NYTimes being, in my opinion, the only major news outlet that consistently meets the curve in climate news, not just editorializing).

And in this light, it is relieving to see Bill McKibben’s editorial in the Washington Post last week, reminding that yes, climate change WILL cause stronger tornadoes, and droughts, and winter storms.  The link is scientific, logical, and actual. But it is unfortunate this editorial from Bill McKibben, who has been a (if not the) consistent voice of reason in the face of climate change, must be so callous in drawing these links. How tired he must be, 20-plus years after writing The End of Nature, to be making this most basic of climate change arguments. McKibben’s piece is an insult to those making millions or billions of dollars by successfully convincing people that climate change can be “believed” or “denied.” And for this reason it is a deserved insult. But that does not make it less sad.

Here is McKibben:
Caution: It is vitally important not to make connections. When you see pictures of rubble like this week’s shots from Joplin, MO., you should not wonder: Is this somehow related to the tornado outbreak three weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, Ala., or the enormous outbreak a couple of weeks before that (which, together, comprised the most active April for tornadoes in U.S. history). No, that doesn’t mean a thing.

It is far better to think of these as isolated, unpredictable, discrete events. It is not advisable to try to connect them in your mind with, say, the fires burning across Texas — fires that have burned more of America at this point this year than any wildfires have in previous years. Texas, and adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico, are drier than they’ve ever been — the drought is worse than that of the Dust Bowl. But do not wonder if they’re somehow connected.

If you did wonder, you see, you would also have to wonder about whether this year’s record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest — resulting in record flooding along the Mississippi — could somehow be related. And then you might find your thoughts wandering to, oh, global warming, and to the fact that climatologists have been predicting for years that as we flood the atmosphere with carbon we will also start both drying and flooding the planet, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold air.

Read the rest over at Washington Post.

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Written by Christopher ZF

May 31, 2011 at 09:34

One Response

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  1. […] TRC posted here recently about a Bill McKibben editorial in the Washington Post, about which we said:  ”McKibben’s piece is an insult to those making millions or billions of dollars by successfully convincing people that climate change can be “believed” or “denied.” And for this reason it is a deserved insult. But that does not make it less sad.” […]

    The Relative Comment

    June 13, 2011 at 12:30


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