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Climate change and weather extremes

November 22, 2011 | 10:00 am | , President & CEO, The Climate Reality Project

Hurricane Elena

Source: NASA

On Friday, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a major new report with a clear and sobering message: There is a connection between manmade climate change and much of the extreme weather we’ve seen around the world.

This report is an authoritative and comprehensive look at the science. It confirms what scientists have long been telling us: Manmade climate change has increased our vulnerability to devastating extreme weather events such as heat waves and heavy rains.

Or in simpler terms: Humans are literally changing the weather because of the pollution we send into our atmosphere.

As we learned during 24 Hours of Reality, we have seen unusually destructive weather events around the globe in recent years — events like heat waves, intense rainfall and extreme drought. You may well have experienced some of these recent events. And because of climate change, the science tells us we should can expect to see more of these events in the future.

This report tells us that climate change makes it “virtually certain” that we will see an increase in daily temperature extremes. And it is very likely that heavy precipitation will increase, which heightens the risk of floods. And while hurricanes may not increase in number, they are likely to become more intense.

As a responsible scientific report, it includes caveats and areas where we still need more evidence before drawing conclusions. It’s also important to note that every word in the report is the product of consensus and requires sign-off from nearly 200 countries. This process can lead to extremely conservative assessments.

What’s clear is that we cannot let a less-than-perfect understanding about the future prevent us from taking action. This report is a bright flashing yellow light about the future of our climate. If we fail to act, we are exposing ourselves to enormous and wholly unnecessary risks. We can’t wait for the light to turn red.

I would also note that this report comes just after we learned the world is on track for a temperature rise of 6 degrees Celsius by early next century. In the 20th century, the global average temperature increased by almost 1 degree Celsius. A 6-degree rise could lead to impacts on our weather that are unimaginable now.

Today, the world is swept up in an economic crisis and engaged in passionate debate about how to solve it. But as this new report reminds us, we face another crisis that is just as immediate and urgent: a crisis about our climate and our vulnerability to extreme weather. Both of these crises are intertwined: The path to a clean energy future is also central to the path forward to a sustainable economic future.

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