In case you have been living in a cave, it has been hot this summer in the
Front page news stories carry headlines regarding deaths in
But is this heat really somehow related to our burning fossil fuels, which thereby add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and warm the planet? According to dozens of news stories, the answer is yes. But consider the following facts:
(1) The numerical global climate models predict that the Earth will warm given a continued build-up of greenhouse gases, most notably, the carbon dioxide gas coming from our burning of fossil fuels. Indeed, temperature records from throughout the world show a warming of approximately 1F over the past century. However, almost all of the warming has occurred during the winter months just as the climate models predict. The models do not predict much change in the summer months in terms of temperature increase or some alteration of the atmospheric circulation. Blaming heat waves on global warming is a stretch, at best.
(2) We have seen heat waves throughout the climate history of the
(3) Karl raises a point that cannot be lost in the heat wave shuffle. Many cities in the
(4) Robert Davis is a climatologist at the
There is quite a lesson here. It is that, in the face of any changes, we adapt.
Life has existed on our planet for billions of years, and the climate over that time has changed from ice ages to periods much warmer than today. There is little doubt that as our cities grow, heat waves will be more severe in the urban areas. If global warming does in fact add to the problem, we will adapt to the new world, just as humans have done for millions of years.
But at the end of the day, we will still be left with those who insist heat waves are increasing in frequency, they are killing more people, and the mess is related to the build-up of greenhouse gases. They want action, and they want it now.
I ask: What action? And, more importantly, What will be the climate effect of your action? It is easy to take the moral high ground, claim heat waves are caused by global warming, and call for action now. However, these actions can have unintended consequences while having no impact on climate.
Emissions of greenhouse gases are so large from
Meanwhile, some actions could lessen our ability to adapt or at least some of us. If electricity prices are driven up, making air conditioning less affordable who will suffer the most? The poorest amongst us who can least afford higher prices, and who thereby would suffer more heat related deaths.
When the weather gets hot, people need to avoid heated rhetoric and engage in some cool thinking.