After the media coverage of last weekend’s heat wave in the Bay Area, as wildfires raged throughout California and as Houston-area residents tried to dry out after the carnage of Hurricane Harvey, I’m left wondering what it will take for climate scientists to step up and speak out forcibly about man-made global warming.
It was incredibly at one point 106 degrees in San Francisco, a record, and Harvey will undoubtedly become for now—Hurricane Irma’s on the way—the most costly destructive “natural” disaster in our country’s history.
There’s a lot to see here in the larger picture. Do not move along.
In northern California, we baked and baked, even right next to the ocean, setting record after record highs yet when the climate change scientists weighed in it was with the usual caveat. I know this caveat well because I’ve used it countless number of times in my own writing. It goes something like this: You can’t blame global warming on any one unusual weather event. Not the human fry in San Francisco. No. Not Harvey. No.
The New York Times cited Daniel Swaim, a U.C.L.A. climate scientist, on the issue of the connection between the wild weather here lately and global warming, and, of course, he cautioned against making the simple cause and effect rationale about the record temperatures as most scientists would do. He did say, however:
It makes more sense to ask whether global warming made an event more likely. And in the case of an unprecedented extreme heat wave, the answer these days is usually yes.
So the statement is less qualified, but I’m beginning to wonder if many scientists are holding back on the severity of the consequences of global warming given the direct or indirect political pressure put on them by global warming deniers, which includes the Trump regime. A scientist has to be very careful in these anti-science, anti-truth days, I get that, and I’m on their side, but there’s no point in discovering a truthful yet horrifying scientific fact about the whole planet if you’re not going to present it bluntly.
Maybe it’s the sweat on the back of my neck and the edges of my hair, along with the suffocation factor, as I write this in the Bay Area, but I’m committing myself to stop making the caveats about global warming at this point. Of course, global warming is affecting all our planetary weather, and the numerous extreme weather events we’ve witnessed in recent years and decades reinforce this. Of course, carbon emissions are accelerating global warming by intensifying the greenhouse effect. So I think it’s time we take a tone more like this:
. . . absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.
Note, “ . . . as soon as the end of this century.” That’s from an insightful article by David Wallace-Wells published in New York Magazine in July, an article that presents the terrifying facts of just what we face at the end of The Oil Age. This era, such a tiny blip in time, could well lead us to another planetary mass extinction, according to Wallace-Wells, much sooner than many people think.
Here are some common sense suggestions:
(1) The scientific community, as Wallace-Wells points out, has been criticized for its reticence in tying weather events to global warming. That reticence needs to stop. Every weather event, even if it is not severe, is still tied to climate change. How could it be otherwise? As the destruction of Houston makes clearer and as Irma bears down on Florida, now, not later, is the time to speak in plain truth. Yes, the severity of these storms are connected to global weather. Yes, the weather in the Bay Area in recent days, all the wildfires, and the California drought conditions, which, yes, were improved by last winter’s rainfall and snowfall, are connected to global warming. Do you know it can get so hot that people simply die because their bodies are cooked inside and outside by the heat?
(2) I know much of television news is devoted to sensationalism and entertainment, but weather anchors throughout the country need to start speaking out about global warming. I watched some news programs on and off over the weekend, and I won’t mention the stations, and, yes, the anchors mentioned the records that were broken, but I didn’t hear any mention of global warming. I believe weather anchors are morally obligated by their positions to discuss global warming on a regular basis.
(3) Along these same lines, the science has been proven, global warming exists, and media outlets can simply say it in news stories without qualification. What else will motivate people to action if the media continues the false equivalencies between those with a vested political interest who try to dispute global warming and the entire, respected scientific community in the world? Here’s an analogy that we might use. Donald Trump is a liar. Major, respected publications throughout the world say it on a daily basis. Well, global warming deniers are liars as well, and media outlets can just say that, too.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve written about global warming for many years, and I’ve also been reticent about tying a particular weather to global warming, but that ended after Harvey and this past weekend in the Bay Area. As Irma threatens to destroy another major metropolitan city—this time it could be Miami—it’s time we adopt the language that correlates to the vast destruction we face.