The Link Between Deadly Weather and Global Warming Is Real -- and Conservatives Can't Just Wish It Away
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Asked if climate change should be “acquitted” in a jury trial where it stood charged with responsibility for tornadoes, Carbin replied: “I would say that is the right verdict, yes.” Because there is no direct connection as yet established between the two? “That’s correct,” Carbin replied.
“'We know we have a warming going on,' Carbin told Fox News”--and yet, Carbin was used to attack those concerned about global warming! Hardly surprising, since the story began by contrasting his views with “environmental activists” rather than climate scientists, such as Dr. Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who told Think Progress, "It is irresponsible not to mention climate change. … The environment in which all of these storms and the tornadoes are occurring has changed from human influences.” Or Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, who added that “climate change is present in every single meteorological event.”
But what about the rest of what Carbin said?
Shaye Wolf, Climate Science Director with the Center for Biological Diversity, pointed to the work headed by Trapp and Del Genio, saying, “NOAA is ignoring a series of scientific studies that suggest a connection between rising greenhouse gas emissions and tornado activity--namely, that rising emissions are predicted to increase the frequency of conditions that spawn severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Although scientific research is still developing, the record number of tornadoes that devastated the US this year and in recent years is consistent with studies suggesting that global warming increases the conditions that fuel tornado development.”
Trapp himself seemed to go out of his way to minimize the conflict. “Greg's comments likely regard the observed tornado record,” he said. “This historical record shows an increasing number of tornado reports (literally, eyewitness reports, and/or reports of damage) over the past 50 years.” However, he warned, “The problem is that we currently don't have a way to remove the non-physical influences on these reports: these include increases in human population and thus in population density; an improved awareness of the tornado phenomenon, and thus on tornado reporting; an organized storm spotter program, and a proliferation of amateur tornado chasers; etc.” Such factors were discussed in the 2008 study headed by Diffenbaugh, for which Trapp was a co-author.
Trapp went on to say that the next steps his research group has on its agenda include trying to resolve some of the uncertainty. This involves “trying to find ways to 'bias correct' the historical record by (1) extracting tornado information from NEXRAD [doppler radar] data, and (2) using high-resolution model simulations of the current climate.”
In short, what I said in the beginning holds true: the connections between global warming and tornadoes are statistical, not causal, but altogether real nonetheless, even though there's a lot of work to be done by scientists like Trapp and his colleagues to make the picture as clear as possible. But it's even more true that it would be foolish to wait for absolute certainty―just as it would be foolish for a store to wait for a heatwave before ordering swimsuits. And that's a subject that deserves a lot more scrutiny than it's received so far, since it makes a mockery of the usual narratives pitting “business” against “the environment.”
The Mounting Costs of Global Warming
Following Hurricane Katrina, I wrote a story about global warming, hurricanes and the broader issue of the economic costs of global warming. I interviewed Gary Lemcke, a climatologist working for Swiss Re, a large re-insurance company, which is to say, a insurance company for insurance companies. He told me then that global warming was “pretty clear on our radar screen,” but “it's on a long-term perspective, ten to twenty-five years,” But that didn't mean it wasn't already a concern.