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.
It is far better to think of these as isolated, unpredictable, discrete events. It is not advisable to try to connect them in your mind with, say, the fires burning across Texas — fires that have burned more of America at this point this year than any wildfires have in previous years. Texas, and adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico, are drier than they’ve ever been — the drought is worse than that of the Dust Bowl. But do not wonder if they’re somehow connected.
If you did wonder, you see, you would also have to wonder about whether this year’s record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest — resulting in record flooding along the Mississippi — could somehow be related. And then you might find your thoughts wandering to, oh, global warming, and to the fact that climatologists have been predicting for years that as we flood the atmosphere with carbon we will also start both drying and flooding the planet, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold air.
It’s far smarter to repeat to yourself the comforting mantra that no single weather event can ever be directly tied to climate change. There have been tornadoes before, and floods — that’s the important thing. Just be careful to make sure you don’t let yourself wonder why all these record-breaking events are happening in such proximity — that is, why there have been unprecedented megafloods in Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan in the past year. Why it’s just now that the Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years. No, better to focus on the immediate casualties, watch the videotape from the store cameras as the shelves are blown over. Look at the news anchorman standing in his waders in the rising river as the water approaches his chest.
Because if you asked yourself what it meant that the Amazon has just come through its second hundred-year drought in the past five years, or that the pine forests across the western part of this continent have been obliterated by a beetle in the past decade — well, you might have to ask other questions. Such as: Should President Obama really just have opened a huge swath of Wyoming to new coal mining? Should Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sign a permit this summer allowing a huge new pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta? You might also have to ask yourself: Do we have a bigger problem than $4-a-gallon gasoline?
Better to join with the U.S. House of Representatives, which voted 240 to 184 this spring to defeat a resolution saying simply that “climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.” Propose your own physics; ignore physics altogether. Just don’t start asking yourself whether there might be some relation among last year’s failed grain harvest from the Russian heat wave, and Queensland’s failed grain harvest from its record flood, and France’s and Germany’s current drought-related crop failures, and the death of the winter wheat crop in Texas, and the inability of Midwestern farmers to get corn planted in their sodden fields. Surely the record food prices are just freak outliers, not signs of anything systemic.
It’s very important to stay calm. If you got upset about any of this, you might forget how important it is not to disrupt the record profits of our fossil fuel companies. If worst ever did come to worst, it’s reassuring to remember what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told the Environmental Protection Agency in a recent filing: that there’s no need to worry because “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations.” I’m pretty sure that’s what residents are telling themselves in Joplin today.
Bill McKibben is founder of the global climate campaign 350.org and a distinguished scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont.
I’ve been on this planet for the better part of half a
century. That makes me old enough to remember if your
conversation was about the weather, it meant you were either
bored or had a very boring life. Now it’s major news.
I can remember how pleasant an all night thunderstorm could
be. Now when a storm comes through, I automatically head for the basement.
It doesn’t matter to me if it is called global warming or climate change. It’s not even worth arguing about what or who is causing it. It’s happening. It’s getting more extreme. Our government is certifiably moronic and it
doesn’t appear they are aware of their own noses. There
is absolutely no leadership on this or any other matter
in Washington. But all of us are partially responsible.
So we as individuals have to lead. When the people lead, the leaders will follow.
As I am typing, another killer tornado is on the ground
in Oklahoma heading to Joplin.
I’m trying to stay clam!
I think we all agree the climate is changing, what I believe is in dispute is whether or not the Solar Cycle has more to do with it than a few extra molecules of CO2, which always increases “before” global weather change.
I point out you can do a lot by making compost and trapping carbon in the soil–Goddess knows America could use a good topsoil program–usually better tended by family farmers.
Now what happened 22 years ago? The Big Muddy Flood correlates to a Big Muddy flood way back 187 years ago; the big sun cycle. I’m going to check out 22 years ago and see if I’m remembering right–tornadoes in the Midwest?
The November 1989 Tornado Outbreak was a destructive tornado outbreak on November 15 and 16, 1989 across a wide swath of the southern and eastern United States and into Canada. It produced at least 40 tornadoes and caused 30 deaths as a result of two deadly tornadoes. The most devastating was the Huntsville, Alabama tornado, an F4 which killed 21 on the afternoon of the 15th. Nine more fatalities were reported at a single elementary school by a downburst on the 16th in the Town of Newburgh, New York. Several other significant tornadoes were reported across 15 states.
Here’s the OK list, busy season,
I’ve read Eaarth, but I can’t recall if the Solar Cycle was touched on. I can tell you, though, that James Hansen’s book Storms of My Grandchildren does, and the answer is no, the solar cycle is not causing this, the CO2 is. Eaarth goes to great lengths to make that argument, hence 350.ORG, but Hansen’s book unloads massive amounts of science (an almost exhausting amount) to support that indeed, historically, CO2 has been the culprit time and time again. The Sun does play a part, make no mistake, but that part is comparatively small in our current context. As an example, our ice ages were tied to the timing of the solar cycle. Notice I used the word were. The CO2 we’ve reapplied to the atmosphere has overwhelmed the atmosphere so much that the ice age we are now due for is not going to happen.
If you haven’t read Eaarth, read it, and no I’m not getting paid to say that. If you want more proof – thoroughly scientific, plain as day proof – read Storm’s of My Grandchildren.
Best to all!
I realized an error in my response about 2 minutes after I posted. Then I lost sleep over the inaccuracy, so I had to fix it.
It’s the Earth’s wobble the causes the ice ages, not the solar cycle. The core message remains the same, though.
Here in New Zealand we have a largely oceanic climate which when I was younger used to be described as “temperate”.
I have seen a few summers come and go over my 49 years and remember the older ones were better. After New years the northerly equinox winds would go and we would have stable fine weather through to April. Not any more. We have had a busy cyclone season but luckily nothing real bad hit NZ.
Something definitely afoot and lasttime I checked the evidence the sun has been in a less active phase recently- past few years. I don’t think it is the Sun. When I see the atmosperic pollution we have pumped into the sky I am certain that we have at least given this a push along. .
Dr Hansen was just down here tis month and I went to hear what he had to say.
We had one in Auckland recently, and Nelson as well as the Waikato. They are pretty rare here…until now that is.
I’m sure glad I don’t live in the Mid West. It is making news down. All the best to Joplin et. al.
Here’s an interesting tidbit about the m9 quake in Japan, the Earth or Eaarth heats up and discharges heat into the atmosphere.
As ,ong as we have a nuclear model of the universe and Sun, until we ge the fact it is all electricity, ALL science is in some condition of error, including climatology.
They say that before the M9 earthquake, the total electron content of the ionosphere increased dramatically over the epicentre, reaching a maximum three days before the quake struck.
At the same time, satellite observations showed a big increase in infrared emissions from above the epicentre, which peaked in the hours before the quake. In other words, the atmosphere was heating up. source: http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/26773/
And I am still right about CO2, the need is to make topsoil, humus, as the first great mining removed carbon from the soil. Taxing people will only make the rich even richer and the rest of us left poor. The crisis, by the way, is not CO2, but O2. O2 is what sustains your life. As long as it stays at about 19%, it doesn’t matter whether the rest is carbon dioxide or nitrogen. It really matters most if it’s benzene, or hydrogen sulfide. I’m all for closing out the oil era, just as long as you all are ready to get with the shovels and hoes before dinner; I’m not feeding dead beat climatologists who simply flew around the world saying the sky is falling.
For any of you who want to take an interest in what I’m reading (only part of “Eaarth”) you can go here : http://wp.me/p6kf2-5n