Joel Achenbach has a fairly sensible column today on climate change and natural disasters.
Somewhere along the line, global warming became the explanation for everything. Right-thinking people are not supposed to discuss any meteorological or geophysical event — a hurricane, a wildfire, a heat wave, a drought, a flood, a blizzard, a tornado, a lightning strike, an unfamiliar breeze, a strange tingling on the neck — without immediately invoking the climate crisis. It causes earthquakes, plagues and backyard gardening disappointments. Weird fungus on your tomato plants? Classic sign of global warming.
You are permitted to note, as a parenthetical, that no single weather calamity can be ascribed with absolute certainty (roll your eyes here to signal the exasperating fussiness of scientists) to what humans are doing to the atmosphere. But your tone will make it clear that this is just legalese, like the fine-print warnings on the flip side of a Lipitor ad.
Some people are impatient with even a token amount of equivocation. A science writer for Newsweek recently flat-out declared that this year's floods in the Midwest were the result of climate change, and in the process, she derided the wishy-washy climatologists who couldn't quite bring themselves to reach that conclusion (they "trip over themselves to absolve global warming").
Well, gosh, I dunno. Equivocation isn't a sign of cognitive weakness. Uncertainty is intrinsic to the scientific process, and sometimes you have to have the courage to stand up and say, "Maybe." . . . This caused that: It would be nice if climate and weather were that simple.
One of the new problems laid at the feet of global warming is the increase in wildfire. Achenbach comments on that too:
Last week, we saw reports of more wildfires in California. Sure as night follows day, people will lay some of the blame on climate change. But there's also the minor matter of people building homes in wildfire-susceptible forests, overgrown with vegetation due to decades of fire suppression. That's like pitching a tent on the railroad tracks.
The message that needs to be communicated to these people is: "Your problem is not global warming. Your problem is that you're nuts."
UPDATE: Joe Romm at ClimateProgress was not impressed with Achenbach's piece, finding it uninformed and tantamount to climate change denialism. To support his charges, Romm cites a study by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program on climate and weather extremes. But the portion of the study he quotes doesn't undermine Achenbach's argument. Roger Pielke finds this quite ironic. Achenbach supports action on climate change, and argues that focus on weather, if anything, could undermine public support for mitigation measures.
If anything, Pielke is too soft on Romm, for the fine print of the USCCSP report does not find an increase in extreme weather impacts as the climate has warmed (and, if anything, the report overstates the climate-extreme weather link). Yet it is Romm who argues Achenbach does not understand the science. Finally, it's a bit odd to argue that someone who argtues we "should definitely worry about global warming" is really a tool of climate change "deniers."