A friend asked me the other day what I think about the “weird weather” we’ve been having.
The world has certainly been seeing a lot of the weird recently – unprecedented floods in Pakistan, Australia and Latin America, earthquakes in Japan, volcanic eruptions in Iceland and Chile, droughts in part of the U.S. and Africa, record-breaking temperatures for cold in the winter and hot in the summer. What are we to make of it?
For decades, scientists have predicted that global warming would lead to more frequent extreme weather events like these. So is our current weather a foretaste of weather patterns we’d better get used to as the climate gets warmer? Or is this simply a bad run?
Unfortunately, we can’t know for sure yet. The problem is that if we wait until we do know for sure, the climate will already be too warm for us to take any remedial action.
And let’s be honest. Climate change is an extraordinarily complex process, and even now scientists can make only informed guesses. Personally, I think one would be a fool to put ones money on the odds that the climate is not getting warmer. I think the risks of waiting until we are sure are far too great to meddle with.
If global warming does occur – say the predicted increase of 4 degrees celsius – there will be some quite desirable outcomes. But the negative outcomes will far outweigh the positive ones. Sea levels will rise, coastal lands will disappear, great cities like New York and London and swathes of entire countries like Bangladesh may be threatened. Food supplies and water supplies will be at a premium, leading to increases of disease, starvation, and war.
I know this sounds like something out of the Apocalypse. And I don’t think spreading fear is a particularly effective way to mobilize people to act. Too often we respond with a case of ostrich-itis and put our heads in the sand. But sometimes the challenge is to look at a problem head on. Saying everything is fine when the tests suggest that there might be something seriously wrong does not return us to robust health. And global warming won’t go away just because we don’t like what the scientists are saying.
Environmental degradation and global warming are huge and complex problems, and I’m not sure whether the human species will meet the challenge. I think we are smart enough. But I’m not sure we have learned how to cooperate well enough to solve these problems.
So what do I think of this weird weather?
I think it’s worth noticing.