Most climate scientists are beyond reluctant to attribute a specific weather event to global warming. But NASA's Dr. James Hansen and two of his colleagues from the Goddard Institute of Space Studies have released a paper linking the heat waves in Moscow and Texas to human-induced climate change. It's an unusual step, and one that could have major implications on how we view changing weather patterns in a world that scientists agree is heating up.
Inside Climate News has the story:
Most scientists are careful not to link specific weather events to climate change trends, but NASA's James Hansen and two colleagues from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University have taken that plunge. They've gathered data they say shows that the 2011 Texas and Oklahoma heat wave—as well as a deadly Moscow heat in 2010—were "a consequence of global warming because their likelihood was negligible prior to the recent rapid global warming.Now, if you follow climate change in the news at all, you're likely aware of how scientists typically discuss global warming in relation to drought, floods, or other extreme weather events. To reflect the science as accurately as possible, they usually equivocate, and say something along the lines of:"Well, we can't conclusively say that any one weather event is caused by climate change, but events like this are what we're likely to see more frequently in a warming world."
If Dr. Hansen and his colleagues can indeed prove that a particular weather event would not have occurred in a world where the concentration of greenhouse gases was not so high in the atmosphere, it would have profound implications indeed. Not just for science, but for the public. If laypeople could clearly understand which sort of extreme weather events are being caused by a world that has warmed over an entire degree due to industrial activity, they may be more inclined to approve of public policy designed to mitigate those events.
Time will tell if Hansen's assertions are accepted by the scientific community—he remains one of the most respected scientists in the field, and his peers say that cursory overviews of this most recent paper reveal that the data is solid. If he's right, he may well change the way that we think about global warming and extreme weather.