Australia is doing its damnedest – and I think 52°C /125.6°F counts as a very real hell – to prove the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) prescient.
Work by the most authoritative group of scientists, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, found that it is 90% certain that heatwaves will increase further in length and severity, as will extreme high tides. It is 66% likely that hurricanes and typhoon winds will get faster and that intense rain will increase, as well as landslides. It is more likely than not that droughts will intensify in Europe, North and Central America and, most dangerously given the poverty there, Southern Africa. There are uncertainties of course, but the basic physics is that heat-trapping carbon emissions mean more energy is being pumped into the system, increasing climate chaos.
The two nations in which the fringe opinions of so-called climate sceptics have been trumpeted most loudly – the US and Australia – have now been hit by record heatwaves and, in the US, superstorm Sandy. The scientists are turning up the volume of their warnings, but whether this leads to loud and clear political action to curb emissions or more shouting from sceptics and the vested fossil fuel interests that support them remains to be seen.
And now, those extreme temperatures are fueling wildfires.
ANNA ROSE co-founder and chair of Australian Youth Climate Coalition, as well as the author of Madlands: A Journey to Change the Mind of a Climate Sceptic): The last two years have been really rough in terms of extreme weather events in Australia. In Queensland, we had big floods that covered an area bigger than the size of France and Germany combined. We had entire towns that were really destroyed by this flooding. But we also—I come from a farming background, and we’re starting to see the impacts in agriculture all over the country. And when you talk to farmers, they’ll tell you that it rains less often, but when it does rain, it all comes down at once, because, essentially, what we’re doing to our climate system is we’re messing with the water cycle. And so, when we know that warmer air holds more water vapor, which means there’s less vapor in the soil, when it does come down, it all comes down at once.
It’s not just Australia. We’ve seen huge droughts in China, massive floods in Pakistan. Obviously there was Hurricane Sandy in the United States. All around the world—in Russia, the Kremlin, a couple years back, had to ban wheat and corn exports in 2011 because they were having such extreme heat waves that they couldn’t export it anymore. And then we saw the price of grain go up threefold around the world, which caused huge food insecurity.
So, the key message from all of this, and what our weather agencies are telling us, is that this is the new normal. This isn’t just some freak extreme weather event. Actually, we’ve seen a trend over the last few decades of extreme weather events on the rise, getting worse and worse, as we pump more and more carbon pollution into the atmosphere and make climate change worse.
I don’t believe people can still joke about this, but check out dissenting comments here and here. I’m skeptical about the “water wars” prediction, only because I don’t draw a disjunct between cooperation and conflict.