Originally posted at the Wonk Room.
The traditional media rarely discusses extreme weather events in the context of global warming. However, as the Wonk Room Global Boiling series has documented, scientists have been warning us for years that climate change will increase catastrophic weather events like the California wildfires, the East Coast heatwave, and the Midwest floods that have been taking lives and causing billions in damage in recent days.
Yesterday, the federal government released a report that assembles this knowledge in stark and unequivocal terms. “Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate,” by the multi-agency U.S. Climate Change Science Program with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the lead, warns that changes in extreme weather are “among the most serious challenges to society” (PDF) in dealing with global warming. After reporting that heat waves, severe rainfall, and intense hurricanes have been on the rise — all linked to man-made global warming — the authors deliver this warning about the future:
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.
Unfortunately, some of the cautions in this long-delayed report have come too late for the victims of the Midwest Flood:
Some short-term actions taken to lessen the risk from extreme events can lead to increases in vulnerability to even larger extremes. For example, moderate flood control measures on a river can stimulate development in a now “safe” floodplain, only to see those new structures damaged when a very large flood occurs.
Climate change is threatening our health, our lives, our economy, and our security already. Now the only question is when our media will take notice, and when our leaders will respond. Our future depends on it.