Last week I read a couple of rather dramatic articles about recent weather events (hat tip to Jeremy who runs the Make Wealth History website – he’s not an AGW sceptic but publishes much that is of interest to believers and sceptics alike.)
The first is this rather scary piece by John Vidal of the Guardian – Warning: extreme weather ahead.
Drought zones have been declared across much of England and Wales, yet Scotland has just registered its wettest-ever May. The warmest British spring in 100 years followed one of the coldest UK winters in 300 years. June in London has been colder than March. February was warm enough to strip on Snowdon, but last Saturday it snowed there.
Welcome to the climate rollercoaster, or what is being coined the “new normal” of weather. What was, until quite recently, predictable, temperate, mild and equable British weather, guaranteed to be warmish and wettish, ensuring green lawns in August, now sees the seasons reversed and temperature and rainfall records broken almost every year. When Kent receives as much rain (4mm) in May as Timbuktu, Manchester has more sunshine than Marbella, and soils in southern England are drier than those in Egypt, something is happening.
And so it goes. Droughts, mega heat waves, floods, tornadoes, the signs are all there. Something is happening. And while no scientist can point to an individual weather event and blame man-made climate change, “many argue that these phenomena are textbook examples of the kind of impact that can be expected in a warming world.”
The second article is an op-ed in the Washington Post by climate campaigner Bill McKibben, entitled A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never!
Caution: It is vitally important not to make connections. When you see pictures of rubble like this week’s shots from Joplin, Mo., you should not wonder: Is this somehow related to the tornado outbreak three weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, Ala., or the enormous outbreak a couple of weeks before that (which, together, comprised the most active April for tornadoes in U.S. history). No, that doesn’t mean a thing.
And so it goes. When Bill says don’t make connections between these extreme weather events, of course, he’s being ironical, in a rather heavy-handed way, and meaning do please make connections between these tornado outbreaks and that it is vitally important to go ahead and link the lot of them (and much more besides) to man-made climate change.
On reading these and similar articles (and, for my sins, I’ve read plenty of them over recent years), it is difficult to avoid the impression that the climate system of planet Earth is falling apart at the seams, like a person on the edge of some sort of devastating nervous and physical breakdown. At this point, one might be forgiven for wondering how many months this can all continue, before the entire world spirals into an insane, chaotic, flood-drenched, drought-scorched, tornado-battered, lightning-blasted, freezing, blazing, melting, belching, squelching inferno of total and utter weather-related doom, which will threaten to make the scariest of Roland Emmerich’s disaster movies seem like the most sedate and uneventful of teddy bears’ picnics by comparison.
With these articles in mind, what sort of typical year might we expect to have in future? What kinds of extreme weather events and accompanying humanitarian disasters can we anticipate, once out-of-control “global weirding” has tightened its grip?
Perhaps the following scenario can give us a few hints.
- In March, tropical cyclones devastate coastal towns in Queensland, Australia, and sink a large passenger ship with all hands.
- At the end of May, a violent thunderstorm creates havoc in southern England, killing 17 people.
- Over the summer, the river Yangtze in China floods, causing an estimated 100,000 deaths, creating a vast lake, 80 miles long and 35 miles wide, and also creating 3.7 million “climate refugees”.
- July brings a crippling 11-day heat wave in the north-eastern US, causing almost 150 deaths in New York City alone and setting temperature records in some places that will stand for a century.
- Also in July, the Philippines endure record rainfall, with 46 inches falling in Baguio City over 24 hours, during a super typhoon.
- In England there is a summer heat wave, with temperature records broken in the east of England and in Epsom, milk shortages due to parched conditions, farming coming to a complete standstill in some parts, food rotting on the London docks and also the threat of civil unrest.
- In Ontario, Canada, an early spring and an abnormally dry summer leads to one of the most devastating forest fires ever recorded there.
- In August, an Atlantic hurricane causes great damage in Charleston, reducing houses and ships to matchwood and taking 17 lives.
- In southern Angola, this year marks the start of a period of almost unbelievable hardship, in which a total of 250,000 people will die from drought, famine, disease and forced labour.
- In Australia, some regions are at their driest for the entire century, with the start of a major period of drought, punctuated by one of the heaviest downpours ever recorded in Western Queensland.
- In November, there is a remarkable weather anomaly in the American mid-west, with many cities, such as Oklahoma City, recording record high temperatures and record lows all on the same day, and with blizzards, a dust storm and outbreaks of tornadoes thrown in.
A picture of things to come?
Actually, this was the year 1911, exactly a century ago.
I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that for many writers in the climate debate, history seems to have begun sometime in the late 1970s, with everything before that in a kind of climate limbo. But “global weirding” has always been with us! And 1911 wasn’t even particularly unusual, disaster-wise – the only reason I’m singling it out is that it was precisely 100 years ago. The “new normal” of weather extremes is actually not very new at all.
If the idea of dangerous man-made global warming had been prevalent at the time, what sort of newspaper articles the Edwardian counterparts of John Vidal and Bill McKibben would have written, I wonder?
And how many months or years might they have given the world, before things got even worse?