Big media struggles with how – or even whether – to explain to the public that the increase in extreme weather we are seeing is precisely what scientists have been predicting would occur because of human-caused climate change (see, for instance, “CNN, ABC, WashPost, AP, blow Australian wildfire, drought, heatwave “Hell (and High Water) on Earth” story – never mention climate change“).
Across the Amazon basin, river dwellers are adding new floors to their stilt houses, trying to stay above rising floodwaters that have killed 48 people and left 405,000 homeless.
Flooding is common in the world’s largest remaining tropical wilderness, but this year the waters rose higher and stayed longer than they have in decades, leaving some fruit trees entirely submerged.
The surprise isn’t just the record flooding, it’s that the flooding followed record droughts:
Only four years ago, the same communities suffered an unprecedented drought that ruined crops and left mounds of river fish flapping and rotting in the mud.
Experts suspect global warming may be driving wild climate swings that appear to be punishing the Amazon with increasing frequency.
The BBC also got the story right last month, “Experts say global warming may be behind the wild climate swings that have brought periods of unprecedented droughts and flooding to the Amazon in recent years.”
Interestingly, the same exact swings in extreme weather hit Louisiana in 2005, as I wrote in my book Hell and High Water:
While the U.S. suffered a record-smashing hurricane season that deluged southern Louisiana with rain in the summer of 2005, “the eight months since October 1, 2005 have been the driest in 111 years of record-keeping” in southern Louisiana, the U.S. National Climatic Data Center reported in July 2006.
What makes the AP and the Washington Times story on Brazil so unusual is not only that the Times is a right-wing newspaper, but that the story continues with an extended discussion of the climate issue:
It’s “the $1 million question,” said Carlos Nobre, a climatologist with Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.
While a definitive answer will take years of careful study, climatologists say the world should expect more extreme weather in the years ahead. Already, what happens in the Amazon could be affecting rainfall elsewhere, from Brazil’s agricultural heartland to the U.S. grain belt, as rising ocean temperatures and rainforest destruction cause shifts in global climate patterns.
“It’s important to note that it’s likely that these types of record-breaking climate events will become more and more frequent in the near future,” Mr. Nobre said. “So we all have to brace for more extreme climate in the near future: It’s not for the next generation”…
“Something is telling us to be more careful with the planet. Changes are happening around the world, and we’re seeing them as well in Brazil,” President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said this month on his radio program….
“I think we should be preparing for this to become more the norm, and there’s a need to look at what the future Amazon will look like,” said Daniel Nepstad, a tropical forest ecologist and chief program officer for the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s environmental conservation program.
Of course, no story would be complete without some “balance,” some reply to the climate scientists:
“We are used to floods and droughts and know how to coexist with them, but we are not used to them happening so swiftly and lasting so long and causing so much damage,” said schoolteacher Gleicimeire Freire, who distributes aid with the Roman Catholic Church. “This is what is scaring us.”
In southern Rio Grande do Sul state, bordering Argentina and Uruguay, many farmers say the driest weather in 80 years has withered their corn and alfalfa. Winter grass for cattle couldn’t be planted, and milk production has suffered, said Darcisio Perondo, a congressman who represents the state.
“In some villages there wasn’t enough water for people to drink, and in some towns they had to get water from the large rivers and tote it by truck for the cattle,” Mr. Perondo said.
He called the situation a calamity, but isn’t sure whether global warming is to blame.
“Anyone who reads the Bible knows that floods and droughts are cyclical,” he said. “I just don’t know if global warming is causing this.”
Still, this is an excellent story overall. Kudos to the AP and the Washington Times for informing the public as to what we face on our business as usual emissions path.