Climate change made me late for work. Climate change bought the last chocolate chip chocolate muffin. Climate change thinks my hair is flat and lifeless. Climate change told my boyfriend that he could do better. Climate change is the worst.
OK, so that is a little bit ridiculous, but over the past few years, climate change has been the center of the blame game, getting either all or none of the responsibility for various weather events and climate phenomena. The debate hit a fever pitch with the catastrophe that was (and in many parts of the Northeastern US still is) Hurricane Sandy. It is an interesting conversation — parts of the national media are quick to deny anthropogenic climate change as a thing at all while other parts of the national media think that it’s responsible for any day where the temperature exceeds 90. As with most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Is climate change responsible for one particular weather event? Not beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s pretty hard to pin-point one specific event on a changing climate. Is climate change responsible for the general trend towards more extreme temperatures and weather events? Yes, it is highly likely that the record pace at which temperature records are falling can be attributed to climate change. It’s also highly likely that the increased intensity and severity of storms and wildfires can also be attributed to climate change.
That part of the story is not particularly interesting. One day of hot weather doesn’t provide any evidence for climate change, but a trend of unseasonably hot weather does. The debate has moved from this arena and into another beefy grey area: can the magnitude of specific events be tied to climate change?
After Hurricane Sandy, environmentalists, scientists, journalists, and the public were all caught up in arguing about whether or not Sandy’s super-storm status was caused by climate change. Spoiler alert: people are still debating this question and there is absolutely no unanimous consensus on what role climate change played, if any.
But this would be a pretty useless update if I was just prancing in here to crow about some debate that some people are having about the impact of a global climate phenomenon on a particular weather event. Oh, re-read that sentence and tell me if it gets your motor running (please, I hope your motor is either solar, coffee, or cookie powered — we don’t want to burn that much more fossil fuel). Yeah, I thought perhaps not. So here’s my take (and I would love to hear yours) — perhaps we cannot assign blame with statistically significant and sound confidence, but it is highly likely that climate change played a role in augmenting the strength of Hurricane Sandy, leading to super-storm status.
These storms will continue to happen and we cannot ignore our role in the development of these storms. While we cannot undo the impact of climate change, we can work to address them. We must acknowledge the new reality of the intensity of weather events and we must adapt. As fun as it is to have purely academic discussions, the impacts of these storms are very much real. We must act now.