Climate Change: UN Extreme Weather Report Triggers Storm of Protest
In mid-November, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a special report on extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods and heat waves. But its emphasis on the uncertainty of its predictions has enraged scientists and activists alike, just days before the UN Climage Change Conference in Durban.
Storms — and especially hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones — are the most interesting weather systems for people dedicated to preventing climate change. Satellite photographs of these swirling storms are seen as a symbol of a world growing progressively warmer — and of the considerable dangers that lurk in such a world.
The storm of the century, Hurricane Katrina, was seen as a warning sign, a harbinger of disasters to come. But six hurricane seasons have passed since then, and not a single massive, high-category storm has arrived to devastate the coasts of the United States. “Meteorologists last recorded such a calm phase between 1911 and 1914,” explains Roger Pielke, Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, in Boulder, who is working to reconstruct the climate history of the United States.
After years of combing through the data related to climate catastrophes, Pielke has concluded that: “Science cannot detect a clear trend. Some indicators even suggest that the number of hurricanes is more likely to decrease.” Indeed, Pielke admits he’s given up wondering why environments have ironically chosen hurricanes as their icons for climate change.
But, he adds, the public perceives something quite different. “Most of them say: ‘Of course there are going to be more hurricanes; that’s what you climate researchers told us,’” he says.
The IPCC Report
Weather-created disasters are once again in the spotlight. On Friday, Nov. 18, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a special report on extreme weather events, providing environmental activists a welcome opportunity to remind the public of past natural disasters and to call for increased climate-protection efforts. “But such events don’t make good indicators of climate change,” Pielke says.
Indeed, the fact is that researchers still can’t really attribute such individual, extreme events to human influence. And, as frustrating as it might be for some people, closer inspection of the IPCC’s new report reveals that such is its message, as well.
The report says that one “very likely” trend is that heat waves will occur more frequently and last longer around the world and that an increase in the frequency and magnitude of warm days and nights around the globe is “virtually certain.” By the end of the century, the report predicts, temperatures on days with extreme heat will be between 2 and 5 degrees Celsius (3.5 and 9 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than they are today.