Our theories and forecasts fell flat, so we will now attribute everything to CO2 – and contradict everything we said previously.
Where extreme weather and climate change intersect
Saturday, 2 July 2011
There are several inconvenient truths relating to the science and politics of climate change.
But perhaps the most inconvenient of all is that so many people remain to be convinced that the climate really is changing.
For the past two winters on the run, for instance, Britain has experienced weeks of freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls. This is not what we should expect in a world made warmer by the emission of billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. And every cold snap, wet summer and cloud-filled sky inevitably brings a popular backlash against scientists who warn against letting the climate slip into dangerously instability.
Such a reaction, though, is wrong. And it is wrong because
of another inconvenient truth: weather and climate are not the same thing. Weather is what we experience on a daily basis, whereas climate is what is expected over months, years and even centuries. We need to take the long view when it comes to the climate and not be hoodwinked by short perturbations in the weather. But this rubs up against another problematic truth, which is that the human mind tends to operate on a timescale that responds better to day-to-day fluctuations of the weather than to longer-term changes of the climate.
We notice changes to the weather because they are obvious every time we go outside. But we do not have such an instinctive feel for the climate. Yet, ultimately, it is the climate that will dictate what sort of weather we are likely to get. Which is why it is important that scientists will now be looking at the short-duration changes to the weather – extreme events such as storms, floods and droughts – to try to establish whether they are being exacerbated by global warming.