Extreme Weather: Is Climate Change Responsible?

The last few days has seen some of the worst fires in Australia’s recorded history. That’s in the South East of the country. Meanwhile in the north we’ve had extensive flooding. Not so well covered in the Australian media has been the snow storms enveloping the Northern hemisphere in places like the UK.

So is climate change the cause of these extreme weather events?

The ABC’s Lateline last night addressed this issue bringing in Professor David Karoly, a lead author in the for the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). According to Karoly, it’s hard to directly pin extreme weather events such as Hurricane Katrina and the recent ones in Australia on climate change. But the scientists are pretty certain climate change means more intense events, more often. He likened it to the rolling of a dice and the increased likelihood of our number coming up.

Here are some of the other key points from my digging around on this issue:

  • Australia is the developed country most at risk from the effects of climate change.
  • Even if we can turn climate change around it’s going to take some time to do – because we’re stuck with the greenhouse gases we’ve put up there for decades.
  • Scientists have expected these kinds of effects from global warming but they say it’s happening faster than expected.
  • Weather records have been broken recently by unexpectedly large margins e.g. Melbourne’s hottest day on record was broken this last week by almost a whole percent when normally records go by 0.2%.
  • Records have been broken not just for highest temperature but also for the duration of the recent heatwave which preceded the fires.
  • It’s not just hotter days, lower rainfall also means a drier landscape and increases the possibility of larger fire events.
  • The scale of disasters is also increased by the fact there’s more people on the planet, and more people living in danger areas.
  • Many people think global warming means small temperature increases. The reality is small changes in climate increase the likelihood of large changes in weather.

You’d think these disasters would be a wake up call.

A week ago two and a half thousand people encircled Australia’s Parliment House to demand we do more about global warming. There was not one article in the Sydney Morning Herald about the protest. Instead we got pages on the global financial crisis and the economic stimulus package.

I don’t think I can put it any better than Freya Mathews who did manage to get an opinion piece in the Herald today:

…. the consequences of climate change will make the financial crisis look like a garden party.

But when the embers die in rural Victoria and the next media story blows in, will we go back to business (or worrying about business) as usual?

David Karoly discusses the role of climate change in Victoria’s bushfires (ABC Radio National)

Quite fortuitously climate experts from around the world have gathered in Melbourne this week for a conference on global warming. The link below provides Lateline’s interviews with leading climate specialists Kevin Hennessy of the CSIRO and Andy Pitman from the Uni of NSW about extreme weather. Transcript of the interviews from the Melbourne extreme weather conference.

Here also is the transcript of the Lateline interview with Prof David Karoly, the Victorian Government’s chief climate change adviser.

Related articles:
Why global warming may be fuelling Australia’s fires (Time)
Australian fires a climate wake up call (Reuters)
Fires will increase in intensity as climate changes (Herald)
Records smashed – heatwave registered unprecedented highs (Herald)
An analysis of 2008 – a record year of extreme weather events (Herald)

Useful links:
Environmental Defense Fund site on extreme weather

Sydney Morning Herald’s multi-media on the Victorian bushfires
Photos on flickr of the bushfires in Australia

More video:
Another video tracing emerging news on the fires in Victoria

3 responses to “Extreme Weather: Is Climate Change Responsible?

  1. What are they going to do about the climate change which they keep blaming for all their problems?! Maybe if they were open to suggestions other than just from their own camp, this change to a climate conscious government may be valid. However, from what i have read –
    – the gov is taking a one sided approach to the task, and not accepting other innovative technologies such as biochar, which has the potential to absorb 20% of Australia’s CO2 output a year.

  2. I actually just finished reading a great book titled, “Agenda for a Sustainable America,” written by 41 scientific experts and edited by John Dernbach. I like the way the book is organized into different subject areas—including forestry, higher education, energy consumption, and state governance. You can read the chapters that interest you, and learn what you want to learn, without having to read them all. Everyone should read this book and then form their opinion as to whether or not “climate change” is real- it is really eye opening!

  3. After seeing floods in the summer and now snowstorms over Christmas over the last few years in Northern Europe, there is no doubt in my mind climate change is here and it’s happening.

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