WHAT OTHERS SAY: Time to ask whether climate change is a factor in extreme weather

Monday, August 8, 2011 | 6:10 p.m. CDT

"It is hard — if not impossible — to link individual local events to human-caused climate change." Those are the words of climate scientist Laurens Bouwer of Vrije University in Amsterdam.

Mr. Bouwer was one of eight climate scientists from around the world to share opinions on a Yale University environmental blog in June about whether the spate of severe weather events worldwide might be related to global warming.

Scientists disagree.

Climate science professor Gabriele Hergerl of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland takes a stronger stance than Mr. Bouwer: "There is quite a bit of evidence that greenhouse gas increases have contributed to recent widespread changes in the frequency of extreme temperatures."

Then there's Roger Pielke Jr., professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado.

"To suggest that particular extreme weather events are evidence of climate change is not just wrong, but wrongheaded."

What the scientists agree upon, however, is significant: Climate change is real, mankind has contributed to it and, in a year in which extreme weather patterns have led to countless deaths, the role of climate change is a question worth researching.

No matter how you slice it, it's been a horrific year for weather extremes. The St. Louis area just recorded its 17th death from the July heat wave, and the death toll from the Joplin tornado now stands at 160. Mid-Missouri suffered through a historic blizzard. And flooding of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers has kept parts of northwest and southeast Missouri under water for much of the spring and summer.

That's just Missouri's weather. It doesn't begin to take into account the Japanese tsunami and earthquake, droughts in Russia, Africa and parts of the United States or flooding in Pakistan.

For much of the last decade, the climate change debate has been focused on whether governments need to institute carbon-reducing policies to reverse global warming or protect the ozone layer. If the answer is yes, it will mean significant increases in energy costs as the United States and other countries build new energy policies.

That's why there has been such push-back against the climate change scientists and politicians who advocate change. What's disappointing is that the skeptics have chosen to use misinformation to skew opinions rather than accept the science and policy ramifications.

Why else would 69 percent of Americans believe that climate change scientists have fudged their data, as the Republican-leaning Rasmussen Reports polling firm reported last week? Years of a disinformation campaign, funded by enormous amounts of money from energy industries, have had their effect.

The opinions on the Yale blog are more informed and nuanced. The scientists don't agree on the specifics or the policy implications of the results of their work. But on the big points, they agree.

It may take a decade or more to discern the climate change implications of this year's extreme weather. But it's possible, even plausible, that climate change has been a contributor.

If there's even a chance that is true, we should ask questions today so the next generation will have some answers tomorrow.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.


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Michael Williams August 8, 2011 | 7:36 p.m.

I don't know the author of this article, but I would like to tell him/her that weather did not start the day they were born (prolly after 1980).

I've seen the Ruskin Heights tornado in the late '50s, many many floods, fish kills, the Anchorage earthquake, bridges collapsed due to earthquakes, well-below freezing days in MO (-20F comes to mind in the early '80s), scorchers, frog-drowning rains, cracks in the dirt an inch wide...just about everything you can imagine except I've not been in a typhoon. This current stuff is fairly routine...except to a young-un' who grew up in a mild interlude (that fact makes it easier to panic them).

"If there's even a chance that is true, we should ask questions today so the next generation will have some answers tomorrow."

See "panic" above.

(Report Comment)
frank christian August 8, 2011 | 7:57 p.m.

Michael - These people think the World began the day they were born. In my opinion, when you see "Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch.", it doesn't matter who the author is.

Heard about R.H. tornado, Anchorage earthquake. Been there with the rest except typhoon. Did see a waterspout in the Atlantic Ocean. Thankfully, was not in it.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 8, 2011 | 9:39 p.m.

frank: I wuz fishin' off Tampa many years ago and....count 'em....we saw 5 waterspouts all going at the same time.

When I say "we", I'm talking about the boat captain and me. The wifey and 3 daughters took Dramamine and were passed out in their easy chairs with their heads bouncing on the bulkheads as the boat rocked.

I got to do ALL the fishing for 6 hours!!!!!!!!! Talk about a "drug of abuse"!....given the chance to do something "neat" that involves motion and family, guess which drug I start pushing? lol

(PS: If I was to take the same posture as this article, my mom would remind me that weather did not start the day I was born in 1949. She lived through the dust bowl and hot-as-hades temps in Hays, KS......)

(Dad and I watched the Ruskin Height's F-5 tornado from our basement. I remember the car on top of the water tower after it was all over)

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 9, 2011 | 5:55 a.m.

Hays, Kansas, huh? My sources tell me that while there hasn't been a recent attack, Hays residents can hear the drums and chanting of Native Americans in the distance most nights!

I'm familiar with Hays: it's a logical overnight stop for anyone driving from Columbia, Missouri to Golden, Colorado.

I know a MS&T Ceramic Engineering graduate from Hays, KS who earned his degree without having to pay out-of-state tuition, under a tuition reciprocity agreement involving KU and MS&T (actually, the campus' earlier names). The agreement was confined to certain majors.

(Report Comment)
frank christian August 9, 2011 | 7:10 a.m.

Say something to an old man and he can't shut up, I guess. I was in KC during 51' flood. Later, heard that a local photographer won an award for a picture published in Life magazine of a wet kitten floating in the flood waters on a 2x4. A group congratulating and talking to him about it when one yo-yo said, "boy! I guess you were lucky to be there when that kitten came floating by!" Photog replied, You don't think I stood there waiting for a cat on 2x4, do you?

That's the way I heard it. I think I hear PETA.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 9, 2011 | 7:46 a.m.

Ellis: If you look at phone directories in Hays and Russell KS, you can see pages and pages of folks with my mom's maiden name....all stemming from a single prolific family of Volgadeutsch.

And, if you look at the surrounding countryside, you'll see lots and lots of oil wells.

Between "genetics" and "oil", which one do you think I got?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 9, 2011 | 8:11 a.m.

"Volgadeutsch," means Volga German." Until the Stalin era in Russia there were many "Volga Germans." They had been there for many years. Stalin didn't trust them, so they were largely liquidated. "Ku Ku Kulak, the pause that rededicates." - From "Pogo."

One of my grandmothers was German (came here from Germany); my other grandmother was half Polish. Now THERE'S a nice combination!

As for oil, remember that God's chosen people wandered around the Middle East for 40 years before settling in one of the few places there which has no oil! Home is home, but oil is where you find it (Petroleum Engineering 101).

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 9, 2011 | 9:19 a.m.

Ellis: My Volgadeutsch came here in the mid-1850s. Caught a ship on the Black Sea for steerage passage thinking they were headed to New Orleans. Wrong ship. Oops. They ended up in Buenos Aires but apparently it didn't take since I feel no particular need to lapse into Spanish. Finally found their way to the US and Russell/Hays. The family's been periodically lost ever since for about a decade-or-so.

Odd that I get lost easily in big cities but have never been lost in the woods, although I have been twice confused....once for 6 hours and the other for a nice overnight stay with rustic accommodations.

(Report Comment)

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