Quitting smoking or losing weight or eating more vegetables won't guarantee you won't get a heart attack: they happen even to people with no obvious risk factors. But the more risk factors you have, the more you're at risk.
Yes, I know it's obvious. That's the point. It should also be obvious that climate change is like adding an extra risk factor that boosts the danger of extreme events like torrential rains, heat waves and droughts. But we in the climate communications business have failed to get that thought into people's heads.
I've just published an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times that tries to remedy that by talking about the floods in Thailand (and other climate events) in the language of medical emergencies. Here's how it begins:
An obese, middle-aged man is running to catch a bus. Suddenly, he clutches his chest, falls to the ground and dies of a massive heart attack....
You can read the rest on the Times website.
You can also read a commentary about it on the the Collide-a-Scape blog run by journalist Keith Kloor.
If the public totally gets climate change by the end of this week, I plan to claim full credit.
In case you didn’t notice, this past summer was hot. June, July, and August were the warmest three months in the U.S. since the catastrophic Dust Bowl era in the 1930's. Texas got the worst of it: the state’s average temperature was 86 ºF, about a degree and a half warmer than any state has ever been during the summer.
The map below, created by the High Plaines Regional Climate Center, shows just how much hotter than normal it was. Parts of the West Coast were actually a bit cool, but other areas were so scorchingly hot — parts of Texas and Oklahoma, for example, were 10 degrees above average — that the U.S. as a whole was 2.5 ºF hotter than it is during a normal summer.
But summers of the future are likely to make this year look mild by comparison.
The next map, courtesy of Climate Wizard, was generated by averaging 16 different climate models. It shows what the average June, July, and August could look like during the 2080s if we continue to add greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere unabated.
Take a moment to compare these two maps. The first shows the second warmest summer since we started keeping records 117 years ago. The second shows what will be considered “average” later this century. The bottom line: A typical summer later this century could be significantly hotter than a record-setting summer today. And since some summers will be hotter than average then, just as they are now, it will sometimes be even worse than that.
Plenty of research s...
There are the unusual weather events that strike the U.S. during a typical year, and then there are the extreme weather and climate events of 2011. This year so far, it seems that mother nature is taking her cue from the cult classic film "This Is Spinal Tap", and is ratcheting up the severity of heat, drought, floods, and other extremes "all the way to 11."
This year is shaping up to be one of the most extreme — if not the most extreme — years in the United States since instrument records began in the late 19th century. Consider a few statistics from just this past June through August to get a better picture of what's been taking place.
Keep in mind that many studies show that certain types of extreme events, such as heavy rainfall events and heat waves, are already becoming more frequent and intense as the climate warms in response to human emissions of greenhouse gases. However, none of these events listed below have been the subject of detailed climate change attribution studies yet, since those take several months to complete, so it would be premature to speculate how big of a role climate change played in their development and evolution.
This summer was the second-warmest on record in the United States, and the eighth-warmest globally.
- Of the Lower-48 states, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Louisiana had their hottest summers on record. Two states — Texas and Oklahoma — had average temperatures that were so high, they broke all-time summer h...
This Climate Wizard interactive was originally developed by the Nature Conservancy, in collaboration with several research institutions. You can use the Climate Wizard to explore how average temperature and average precipitiation is going to change over the next century, depending on how much greenhouse gas pollution people generate.
The most startling aspect of the Climate Wizard? The climate models show that no matter how much we reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases, average temperatures will increase across the entire country by 2050.
The summer of 2011 has rewritten the record books.
Using our record temperature tracker (see below), which draws on the National Climatic Data Center's database, we found that June, July, and August saw more warm temperature records tied or broken than any other summer in the past decade: more than 26,500 record warm temperatures were set across the nation. By comparison, fewer than 3,500 record low temperatures were set — the fewest of any summer in the past decade. These records are daily records — that is, each day’s high and low temperature is compared to the high and lows for that day of the year in the weather station’s history. In addition to the daily records, numerous monthly records were set. In Texas, for example, this summer will go down in history as the warmest summer on record.
Not only that, but NOAA announced today that Texas had the warmest summer for any state in the US going back to when instrument records began in 1895. Oklahoma came in second, with both states beating records set during the infamous "Dust Bowl" era in the 1930s.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, placing this many records on a single Google map made the map run too slowly for most browsers. (Which is why the map on the left is just an image.) Below is an interactive map that breaks the summer down by month. Click on "play" to watch heat waves repeatedly march across the nation.
As is obvious from the swaths of red, the heat was especially relentless in the souther...