Thousands worldwide to "connect the dots" between climate change and extreme weather this weekend

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
May 03, 2012



High school students in Texas connect the dots between climate change and tornados that appear earlier and earlier ever year. Scientists are just beginning to explore whether or not there is a connection between climate change and tornadoes. Photo courtesy of 350.org.
High school students in Texas connect the dots between climate change and tornados that appear earlier and earlier ever year. Scientists are just beginning to explore whether or not there is a connection between climate change and tornadoes. Photo courtesy of 350.org.

On Saturday, May 5th vulnerable populations from the United States to Bangladesh will "connect the dots" between devastating extreme weather and climate change in a global day of action organized by 350.org. The nearly 1,000 events occurring in over half of the world's nations are meant to highlight to governments, media, and the public that climate change is impacting lives through an increase in number and intensity of devastating weather events, such as droughts, heatwaves, and floods.

"We just celebrated Earth Day. May 5 is more like Broken Earth Day, a worldwide witness to the destruction global warming is already causing," said founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben, in a press release. "People everywhere are saying the same thing: our tragedy is not some isolated trauma, it’s part of a pattern."

Haiti's youth stand in flooded streets to connect the dots between climate change and severe floods. Photo courtesy of 350.org.
Haiti's youth stand in flooded streets to connect the dots between climate change and severe floods. Photo courtesy of 350.org.



While scientists have long predicted that climate change will increase the number and the severity of particular types of extreme weather, recent research is increasingly finding that climate change has already "loaded the dice" for certain extreme weather events. In fact, a paper this year in Nature Climate Change found "strong evidence" of climate change worsening flooding, droughts, and heatwaves.

"Global warming can generally not be proven to cause individual extreme events—but in the sum of events the link to climate change becomes clear. It is not a question of yes or no, but a question of probabilities," explained lead author, Dim Coumou, with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), in a press release.

Tajikistan's water supplies are dwindling as glaciers melt and are not renewed by snowfall as in the past. Photo courtesy of 350.org.
Tajikistan's water supplies are dwindling as glaciers melt and are not renewed by snowfall as in the past. Photo courtesy of 350.org.

Beyond the science, the rise in extreme weather events brings real human suffering. Last year, the U.S. suffered 12 weather events that caused a billion dollars each, including several that were probably exacerbated by a warmer world. Also in 2011, Thailand experienced its worst flooding on record with total damages exceeding $45 billion according to the World Bank, and South Korea experienced its wettest summer yet with floods killing 69 people in Seoul. But the greatest human toll last year was in East Africa. Failed rains pushed anarchic Somalia into famine, killing between 50,000 and 100,000 people, half of whom were likely children under five.

The last ten years has also seen Europe's worst heatwave in at least 500 years (2003); England's wettest summer since 1766 (2007); Russia's warmest summer on record including unprecedented droughts and fires (2010); Pakistan's worst flood disaster impacting 20 million people (2010); two record droughts in the Amazon rainforest (2005 and 2010); and meanwhile sea levels continue to rise, Arctic sea ice continues to decline, and most of the world's glaciers are diminishing.

The island of Palau is seeing salty sea water swamp taro patches and erode beaches. Photo courtesy of 350.org.
The island of Palau is seeing salty sea water swamp taro patches and erode beaches. Photo courtesy of 350.org.

Despite this, world governments have been slow to act on climate change with greenhouse gas emissions continuing to rise year after year. In addition, critics say that many in the media have ignored or obfuscated the issue. In the U.S., at least, coverage has dropped sharply since 2009, the year of the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen, according to Media Matters. In addition, stories covering the politics of climate change far outnumber those covering the science.

Since the early 20th Century, global temperatures have risen approximately 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.44 degrees Fahrenheit) due to greenhouse gas emissions, which trap heat in the atmosphere. The past decade (2000-2009) was the warmest on record, while 2010 and 2005 are generally considered the warmest years on record (not 1998 as is often cited). In fact, the Earth hasn't experienced a single year below the 20th Century average since 1975. While governments have pledged to keep global temperatures rising above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the International Energy Agency warned last month that global society was on track to raise temperatures "at least" 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit), a rise that scientists warn would cataclysmic for Earth's ecosystems and human society.

In Jaora, India, key water supplies are running dry during longer and longer periods of drought. Photo courtesy of 350.org.
In Jaora, India, key water supplies are running dry during longer and longer periods of drought. Photo courtesy of 350.org.















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CITATION:
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (May 03, 2012).

Thousands worldwide to "connect the dots" between climate change and extreme weather this weekend.

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