"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.
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.