Why has extreme weather failed to heat up climate debate?
The world is experiencing the hottest weather on record but politicians have failed to respond. They need a wake-up call
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 18 August 2010 15.30 BST
We've had so much record heat around the world lately that the records themselves are setting records: 17 nations have reached new temperature highs, a new record for records in a year. Pakistan hit (129F) 54C, a new record for all of Asia. Moscow had never hit 100F (38C) before; lately it's been a rare day when the mercury settles lower.
Now scientists have confirmed what's been pretty obvious: the entire world has just come through the warmest six months, the warmest year, and the warmest decade on record. Following the hottest June ever, AccuWeather.com yesterday said July was the second hottest July recorded – and the warmest ever for land temperatures alone.
Just in case those feel like abstractions, here's what they mean in practice: because warmer air holds more water vapour than cold, deluge increases. Hence, Pakistan has seen the worst flooding in its history. Because heat cuts grain yields, Russia has stopped exporting grain, spiking prices. Greenland? Guess what – heat melts ice.
In fact, the only thing that defies common sense this brutal summer is how little political reaction there's been. The UN process continues its post-Copenhagen wander – even many NGOs continue out of sheer habit to support old targets, like limiting the level of CO2 to 450 parts per million (ppm) and a 2C increase in temperature. Why? If the current 390 ppm melts the Arctic, who would aim for 450? In Washington, meanwhile, the Congress and White House have decided there's no need for any kind of urgency: they let the tepid and tame climate bill die without even scheduling a vote. more
German Climatologist on Criticism of IPCC
'We Received a Kick in the Pants'
German physicist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber is one of Angela Merkel's advisers on climate change. In an interview with SPIEGEL, he discusses extreme weather events, global warming's winners and losers, and the effects of the crisis of confidence in climate research.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Schellnhuber, Russia is burning and floods have inundated Pakistan. Are such extreme weather phenomena increasing because of gradual climate change?
Hans Joachim Schellnhuber: Such events certainly do correspond to what we expect from a warmer world. We have seen record average global temperatures for more than a year now, and that increases the likelihood of regional heat waves like the one in western Russia at the moment. Besides, our climate models show that the South Asian monsoon is becoming more temperamental as a result of anthropogenic changes to the environment.
SPIEGEL: There have also been forest fires and floods in the past. Isn't it too easy to automatically link natural disasters to climate change?
Schellnhuber: Of course it would be wrong, from a scientific perspective, to establish this relationship indiscriminately. But it would be just as unscientific to stop searching for such relationships, merely because the public's interest in climate change has temporarily diminished.
SPIEGEL: In Russia, in particular, fire prevention has failed. The forest service was abolished, and fire departments in many places are in terrible condition. Do these major fires show that extreme weather situations don't necessarily lead to catastrophes, but that poor crisis management is really to blame?
Schellnhuber: That's undoubtedly correct. In most cases, it's social mismanagement that creates the conditions for social catastrophes. Often one can get away with having inadequate precautionary measures, provided the weather plays along. But extreme weather relentlessly exposes human mistakes and our crimes against nature. The German state of Brandenburg (editor's note: where the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research is based) offers an example of the right way to do things. Even though there are more forest fires here than in the past, due to global warming, the surface area burned by the fires has decreased substantially, thanks to improved monitoring with smoke detectors. moreIn Germany, even the conservatives are committed to doing something substantial about climate change. That most emphatically includes Frau Merkel
Return of the 'Climate Chancellor'
Merkel Tries to Regain Upper Hand in Energy Debate
By Katharina Peters
Before the financial crisis, Angela Merkel liked to present herself as the "climate chancellor," pushing for CO2 cuts and posing with glaciers. Now, with nuclear energy dominating the energy debate in Germany, Merkel has sought to turn back the clock.
The sky hung low and gray over Krempin, a small town in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern -- not exactly ideal weather for a photo op. Nevertheless, Chancellor Angela Merkel posed gamely for the cameras as someone handed her a sunflower. At least the wind was blowing -- she was here, after all, to visit a wind park.
Then the sky cleared, and the sun even started shining. Merkel's photo-op was saved.
Krempin was the first stop on Merkel's four-day "energy tour" of Germany. The chancellor wanted to find out for herself "where we are strong and what still needs to be done," in the words of her government spokesman. The tour, which will take in wind farms, hydroelectric facilities and nuclear power plants, is being sold as something of an educational field trip. more