Three separate stories on the front page of the BBC news site today:
“Death rate doubles in Moscow as heatwave continues“: Extreme drought in Russia, with heatwaves filling the morgues in Moscow, and the air so thick with smoke you can’t breathe.
“Pakistan floods threaten key barrage in southern Sindh“: Entire villages washed away by flooding in Pakistan – as the Globe and Mail puts it, “Scale of Pakistan floods worse than 2004 tsunami, Haiti and Kashmir quakes combined”
“China landslide death toll jumps“: “The landslides in Gansu came as China was struggling with its worst flooding in a decade, with more than 1,000 people reported dead and millions more displaced around the country.”
Lots of statistics to measure the human suffering. But nobody (in the mainstream media) pointing out that this is exactly what climate change is expected to do: more frequent and more intense extreme weather events around the globe. When the forecasts from the models are presented in reports as a trend in average temperatures, don’t forget that it’s not the averages that really matter for human well-being – it’s the extremes.
And nobody (in the mainstream media) pointing out that we’re committed to more and more of this for decades, because we can’t just turn off carbon emissions, and we can’t just suck the extra carbon out of the air – it stays there for a very long time. The smoke in Moscow will eventually wash out in a good rainstorm. The carbon in the atmosphere that causes the heatwaves will not – it will keep on accumulating, until we get to zero net emissions. And given how long it will take to entirely re-tool the whole world to clean energy, the heatwaves and floods of this summer will eventually come to look like smallfry. There’s a denialist argument that environmentalists are misanthropes, wanting to deny under-developed countries the benefits of western (fossil-fuel-driven) wealth. But how much proof will we need until people realize that do-nothing strategies on climate change are causing millions of people to suffer?
I was struck by a rather idiotic comment on this CBC story on adaptation to climate change in Northern Canada: “It’ll be awesome….palm trees, orange trees, right in my backyard!!” Yes. Quite. I’m sure the folks in Moscow will be rushing out to plant palm trees and orange trees to replace the forests that burnt down. Just as soon as they can breathe outdoors again, that is.
Oh look, Moscow is further north than every single major Canadian city. Are we ready for this?
Update: (Aug 10): At last, the BBC links the Moscow heatwave to climate change.
Update2: (Aug 11): Forgot to say that the title of this post is a version of a quote usually attributed to William Gibson.
Update3: (Aug 11): There’s a fascinating workshop in September, in Paris, dedicated to the question of how we can do a better job of forecasting extremes. I’ve missed the registration cut-off, so I probably won’t be able to attend, but the agenda is packed with interesting talks. And of course, the IPCC is in the process of writing a Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events (the SREX), but it isn’t due out until November next year.
Update4: (Aug 12): Good reporting is picking up. Toronto Star: “Weather-related disasters are here to stay, say scientists“, although I think I like the original AP title better: “Long hot summer of fire and floods fit predictions“