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Environment

Hold That Bandwagon

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorAugust 17, 2010 11:15 PM

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I think Tom Yulsman has been covering climate change as long as Andy Revkin (which means several decades). So I'm digging this new radio gig he's added to his portfolio. (Tom, in addition to being a co-director at the University of Colorado's Center for Environmental Journalism, is a long-time friend and colleague.) Check out the show he did this week with Peter Stott, who is head of climate monitoring and attribution at the United Kingdom's Met Office, which Tom discusses today in a blog post, provocatively headlined

Global warming did not "cause" Russian heat or Pakistani Floods

This follows on the heels of another terrific radio piece Tom did on Jim White, the director of CU's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, discussed in this post. Here's an excerpt of today's interview with Stott:

I think . . . some people are too easily jumping from the very clear evidence that climate is changing, and that we've seen systematic changes in our climate system over the last few decades, to saying that particular individual extreme weather events are therefore due to climate change and therefore will become more frequent in the future . . . The example with the current terrible situation in Pakistan is a very good case in point. Although our understanding of the climate system does tell us, and the observations do tell us, that there have been increases in extreme rainfall events, we don't know about the particular circumstances in Pakistan, and the particular weather situation there, whether that is the sort of thing that will become more frequent or not. And, therefore, [we don't know how to] respond to such a situation in terms of the longer-term adaptation response, for example.

Meanwhile, in a related thread at my place, it's interesting to see the contortions of some who are talking up the greenhouse gas link to the aforementioned disasters. For example, Michael Tobis, a climate blogger who I equally applaud and admonish from time to time, seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth. Here, he says:

The tightly coupled events in Russia and Pakistan and the related events in China are of a different order than we have seen before. Treating this as just another example of extreme weather is inadequate; it may look logically coherent but it really isn't.

Then, further down in the thread, he writes:

It is impossible to predict what these weird events will be. The simulation models are too coarse and too conservative, and we wouldn't know what to look for in their output anyway. You can't really do statistical attribution on single events, and causality is pretty complicated in a tightly coupled system. So it's hard to say much about this beyond that we should not only expect the unexpected, we should expect a great deal more of it.

The wider discussion in the media that this summer's extreme weather has prompted must be confusing to the average person who doesn't ordinarily pay attention to the particulars of this debate. On the one hand, we have scientists and climate bloggers like Tobis essentially saying, the events in Russia and Pakistan are not your normal, naturally occuring weather disasters. On the other hand, we have climate scientists and Tobis essentially saying, we can't definitively attribute AGW to these single weather events in Russia and Pakistan, but we should expect these kinds of disasters to occur much more often in the future. I don't know. Do those hoping to spur public engagement and political action on climate change really want to swing on that pendulum?

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