Tuesday, July 3, 2012

When I am writing this I am aware of three areas struck with wild fires - in the US, in Spain, and in Bulgaria. I suspect there are many more that I do not know about. And for sure, there are many more to come.

Johan Christian Clausen Dahl Waldbrand 1846

Climate change has been hotly debated for several years, and anyone who has read an article about it will know that more, and more intense, wildfires is one out of many predictable effects of a warmer atmosphere. Other predictable effects are fiercer storms, droughts and floods.

The key fact is that warm air holds more vapour than cold air. That means it will rain more seldom, but more intense when the rain falls. Some places are flooded, while others remain dry.

The key insight is that weather has always been potentially extreme. On a certain location at a certain time, there is always a potential for extreme weather. A warmer climate does no bring any new events - it simply changes the likelihood of them to occur.

But given that the world is now somewhere around 0.6 degrees warmer than it was 30 years ago, and given the immense damage caused by events like the wildfires in Colorado, it is very relevant to ask to what extent these events are due to warmer weather.

Scientists and activists who have been saying this for years of course make this connection. And you can find journalists in regional newspapers. But you will search in vain for a discussion of climate change in connection with real world events in major news outlets like CNN or NY Times.

This would make sense if CNN and NY Times rejected the idea that warmer temperatures affect the weather, but, alas, you can find several articles describing the effects of climate change on these sites.

How can an article that predicts that climate change will give more wildfires, not be referred to when wildfires do appear?

It's the politics, stupid. One could easily imagine the loathsome comments to a NY Times article about wildfires that even hinted at climate change. It would be highly controversial.

But if we let such bigotry stand in the way of discussing climate change when it happens, how could we ever manage to deal with it? Well... it is like that. We can't.

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