Much discussion in recent times (some of it right here in HuffPo city) on the issue of whether the Californian fires, the Mexican floods, the Australian drought, and, of course, Hurricane Katrina, were "caused" by global warming. The answer is, dear friends, YES, but, on the other hand, no. The framing of this question has done a great deal to hamper public understanding of the changing climate and its implications. It is a variant of another often seen, and equally damaging, response "when Al Gore visited Spain last month to highlight the dangers of climate change, the leader of the opposition People's Party, Mariano Rajoy, openly questioned his judgment. "Listen," said Mr Rajoy, "I've brought here 10 of the world's most important scientists and not one of them can guarantee what the weather will be like tomorrow ... How can anyone say what will happen to the world in 300 years?"".
The problem arises from the fact that the public seems to need examples of dangers, being unable to comprehend trends (an inability heightened by old media which is apparently able to report only single events and which is unable to deal in generalities, trends, contexts, histories ). So the temptation has been to use specific weather events as examples of the kind of changes that are coming. The immediate response to this has been - but how do you know we wouldn't have had Katrina without global warming, don't you realize we have had hurricanes before? And then a futile argument ensues, and another "teachable moment" has been lost.
So let me cut through all of this nonsense - EVERY aspect of the weather of every country in the world is being influenced by global warming. EVERY event is made a little bit worse, will happen a little more frequently, as a result of global warming. Global warming doesn't create new weather events, it works to heighten existing ones. Just like Marion Jones on steroids, the climate of the world is being speeded up by the injection of heat. So, an individual storm, or snowfall, or flood, or heat spell, or strong wind, is just what those things have been throughout recorded, and unrecorded, history. And yes, predicting the weather tomorrow is still very difficult, but predicting the climate in 300 years time is becoming , sadly, very easy.
The only new elements that global warming is bringing to the weather forecaster's desk are the melting of the ice caps and glaciers, the consequent rising sea levels, and the rising acidity of the sea. All of those factors are new to human civilization (though not to many extinct species of the past), and all three add an unknown element to the climate changes already occurring. As a result of them we are going to see weather events unlike anything we have seen in the past in addition to the "normal" (though supercharged) ones we are seeing now. That is why scientists are either very frightened or extremely frightened.
The really sad thing is that it is way too late for these kinds of discussions now. If you wanted to see the earth destroyed then the "Mission Accomplished" banner went up a decade ago.
Like Marcel Proust I believe "The true paradises are the paradises we have lost". Check out my other beliefs on The Watermelon Blog .