Lately, weather has been the news more often than followed the news. After every major storm or other weather event, meteorologists around the world get asked the same question: “Was this due to climate change?” And all around the world, responsible meteorologists give the standard scientific answer – that one cannot attribute a specific single event, even an exceptionally severe one, to climate change. To most people, that sounds like a “no” which, while accurate, is not exactly helpful.
And herein lies a problem – because by the time these events can with scientific certainty be linked to climate change, it will be far, far too late to do anything about climate change. So we must look at probabilities and what the models predict; basically all climate change models agree that as climate change advances and the planet’s climate goes seeking a new balance, severe weather events will become both more frequent and more severe. So while a “100-year-event” occurring in any given year does not in and of itself indicate worsening climate change nor does it increase or decrease the probability of a similar event occurring again the following year, at some point one has to begin drawing some conclusions.
Would Australia having had two 100-year droughts in the past 100 years qualify? Perhaps the Brisbane river exceeding its ARI 100 (Average Recurrence Interval) flood levels three times in the past 100 years counts? Or what about the severe Amazon rainforest drought, the second “once in a century” drought in just six years? Or the European heat waves of 2003 and 2006, the former of which killed 52,000 people? Or the fact that the 10 warmest years on record have all been since 1998?
One would be inclined to think so. And some even in the mainstream media think so; here is Mike Carlton on Sydney Morning Herald in his article “Flat-earthers, it’s time for a cold shower”:
[lists the natural disasters from the last 12 months]
Given this catalogue of global disaster, would now be a good time for the climate change flat-earthers to shut up and listen, do you think? Just for a day or two, or even five minutes?
They wonâ€™t, of course. The global warming denialists ignore the great body of world scientific opinion. When the Queensland catastrophe leaves the headlines the local lot will be at it again, barfing up their crackpot notions.
And meanwhile in Finland, the Finnish Meteorological Institute is – I can only assume fully consciously – implementing a creeping normalcy / shifting baseline phenomenon by switching to use the period 1981-2010 as their comparison period; a period that is on average some 1.5C warmer than the true long-term average up to e.g. 1990. This is a rather dangerous exercise and will end up belittling the warming in Finland by shifting the comparison baseline to a significantly higher level.
In any case, next time there’s a severe weather event, I suggest asking your meteorologist a different question. Ask them “Is it likely that these events would have occurred at this intensity or frequency if atmospheric carbon dioxide had remained at its pre-industrial level of 280 ppm?” and the responsible answer should quite different and come with more certainty than to the first question.