Huffpost Green
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Peter H. Gleick Headshot

Global Weirding: Naming Climate Change Disasters After the Deniers

Posted: Updated:

The most recent report from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says, "Global warming is undeniable," and it's happening fast. NOAA's study, an in-depth analysis of ten key climate indicators, all point to marked and accelerating warming. This disturbing consistency should scare policy makers -- if they were listening. As Derek Arndt, head of NOAA's Climate Monitoring Branch clearly put it, "This is like going to the doctor and getting your respiratory test and circulatory test and your neurosystem test...It's testing all the parts, and they're all in agreement that the same thing's going on."

That "thing" is accelerating climate change.

Those few extreme policy makers and pundits who continue to deny the realities of climate change often point to "uncertainty" in the observations, models, and climate system itself that make perfect predictions impossible. Of course, climate scientists also talk about uncertainty all of the time -- it is a characteristic of the science, not an excuse for politicians to avoid taking action. What the deniers don't cop to, in a great example of selective one-sided argumentation, is that uncertainty cuts both ways. As Stephen Schneider, one of the world's greatest climate scientists and communicator regularly pointed out, while there is always a possibility that climate changes will fall on the less severe end of the scale, there is a comparable probability that climate changes will be far worse than we expect, with far more serious consequences to the planet.

And this lopsidedness works in another important way. If we act to slow climate change, and the impacts turn out to be less severe than we predict, all we've done is reduce our emissions of pollutants, cut our economic dependence on fossil fuels from countries that fund extremism and terror, and boosted our economy with new green technologies and jobs. But if we do nothing, and climate changes turn out to be more severe than we fear, we've made things far worse than they needed to be.

And that's what's happening.

There is growing evidence from the real world that climate changes are accelerating faster than we originally feared and that impacts -- already appearing -- will be more widespread and severe than expected. This makes the arguments against taking actions against climate change not just wrong, but dangerous. We cannot expect climate deniers to change their tune: they've made up their minds, despite all new evidence. As Epictetus said, "It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows."

But to be a climate denier these days means sticking in earplugs, covering your head with a pillow, and then burying your head deeper and deeper in the sand. Why? Because new physical evidence comes in every day that climate extremes are piling up. I know it is harder and harder to find real news anymore. You often don't get it from the cable "news" shows, which in a perfect world would be the gold standard on this issue. But there is climate news. And it is bad. And it is consistent with or even worse than what the climate models have been predicting.

So, I have a new proposal. Henceforth, just as we give names to hurricanes, I propose we name climate disasters after those who deny the reality of climate change in the face of incontrovertible scientific evidence. After all, why use generic names and tarnish all future Andrews, Betsys, Charleys, and Katrinas when we can remind ourselves that without these individuals' stubborn opposition in the face of all evidence, we and our children could have lived in a world where these events were far less prevalent. And just for fun, I have some modest examples here:

The Inhofe Lake Mead Bathtub Ring: Water levels in Lake Mead on the Colorado River have dropped to levels not seen since the reservoir was first filled in the 1930s, threatening water supplies throughout the southwest, and exposing whitened rock rings around the lake's edge. Over the last decade, the Southwest has suffered the sharpest temperature increase in North America, rapidly diminishing snowpack, loss of vegetation, expansion of forest pests, and rampant wildfires.

The Michaels Pakistani Floods: This summer has seen the heaviest monsoon rains on record in Pakistan.

The Monckton Russian Heat and Fires: It's been the hottest summer ever recorded in Russia, with Moscow temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time, unprecedented wildfires in their forest and peat fields, a reduction in Russia's wheat harvest by a third, and a big jump in heat-related deaths.

The Morano Greenland Ice Floe: A 100-square-mile ice island calved off from the Petermann Glacier - the largest ice island to break away in the Arctic in a half-century of observation.

The Ebell Ice-Free Arctic: satellite data show the Arctic Ocean area covered by ice this summer to be the second-lowest ever recorded - and the lowest was just a few years ago.

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page Heat Wave: The east coast of the U.S. experienced record-breaking temperatures this summer, again. It seems like we're breaking these records at record-breaking speed.

Of course, climate deniers can't take full credit or blame for each of these problems, but we'll run out of names and associations of those promulgating misinformation about climate change long before we'll run out of climate disasters. Though there are a lot of names in Congress we can use.

Peter Gleick

Around the Web

Freak climate disasters fuel debate over global warming (Videos)

Dalai Lama sounds alarm over global warming amid floods

The New Katrinas: Naming Climate Change Disasters After the Deniers

Lessons in Resilience From New Orleans

Global Warming News of the Week

Pakistan floods, Haiti earthquake: unprecedented 1-2 punch for US aid

From Our Partners