The Washington Post’s Joel Achenbach doesn’t understand basic climate science
Repeat after me, Joel: “Global warming makes the weather more extreme.” If even the Bush administration accepts that basic fact of climate science, shouldn’t you?
I used to like Achenbach’s cutesy science pieces, but his knowledge of climate science is about one or two decades old, as evidenced by his major story in The Washington Post, “Global Warming Did It! Well, Maybe Not.” It is a typically uninformed journalistic “backlash” piece whereby a reporter creates a straw man and then sets it on fire.
Achenbach is trying to seem reasonable by complaining that the next time we get a big hurricane, “some expert will tell us that this storm might be a harbinger of global warming.” Uhh, I hate to break this to you Joel, but global warming doesn’t need a “harbinger.” It has been here for decades.
In that sense, your article is not a harbinger of global warming denial, since deniers have been pushing back against the “global warming causes extreme weather” story for years, browbeating the media into downplaying the connection. You really should read your fellow journalist Ross Gelbspan’s long discussion of this in his great 2004 book, Boiling Point. Achenbach writes:
Weather alarmism” gives ammunition to global-warming deniers. They’re happy to fight on that turf, since they can say that a year with relatively few hurricanes (or a cold snap when you don’t expect it) proves that global warming is a myth. As science writer John Tierney put it in the New York Times earlier this year, weather alarmism “leaves climate politics at the mercy of the weather.”
You cannot be serious. The best you can do is quoting Tierney, a well-known climate doubter/denier/delayer? And deniers don’t need to look for any ammunition — they just make up stuff. You could waste a lot of time trying to figure out what you should or shouldn’t say based on a fear of how deniers might twist it or take it out of context.
This is simple stuff. As the climate changes because of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, the weather becomes more extreme. That’s what climate change is. I understand why deniers don’t want the rest of us talking about the connection between global warming and the surge in extreme weather events that has been documented statistically by scientists including NOAA’s National Climactic Data Center. That would shut down most discussion of current climate impacts. But I don’t understand why Achenbach falls for that spin.
Anyway, it is now officially absurd to take the view of the deniers, Achenbach, and Tierney. Back in June, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (aka the Bush Administration) issued Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate that acknowledged the basic climate science:
Changes in extreme weather and climate events have significant impacts and are among the most serious challenges to society in coping with a changing climate.
Many extremes and their associated impacts are now changing. For example, in recent decades most of North America has been experiencing more unusually hot days and nights, fewer unusually cold days and nights, and fewer frost days. Heavy downpours have become more frequent and intense. Droughts are becoming more severe in some regions, though there are no clear trends for North America as a whole. The power and frequency of Atlantic hurricanes have increased substantially in recent decades, though North American mainland land-falling hurricanes do not appear to have increased over the past century. Outside the tropics, storm tracks are shifting northward and the strongest storms are becoming even stronger.
It is well established through formal attribution studies that the global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases. Such studies have only recently been used to determine the causes of some changes in extremes at the scale of a continent. Certain aspects of observed increases in temperature extremes have been linked to human influences. The increase in heavy precipitation events is associated with an increase in water vapor, and the latter has been attributed to human-induced warming. No formal attribution studies for changes in drought severity in North America have been attempted. There is evidence suggesting a human contribution to recent changes in hurricane activity as well as in storms outside the tropics, though a confident assessment will require further study.
In the future, with continued global warming, heat waves and heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in frequency and intensity. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity. Hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge levels are likely to increase. The strongest cold season storms are likely to become more frequent, with stronger winds and more extreme wave heights.
If The Post keeps publishing such uninformed pieces, how will the public ever become informed on this crucial issue?