Are Extreme Climatic Events Linked to Climate Change?
31.08.2010 - Other
From the recent heat waves in Russia to the current floods in Pakistan, the question as to whether climate change is responsible for these extreme events seems to be on everybody’s lips these days. Separately reporting in The Guardian and Wired Science, prominent climatologists Peter Stott from the British Met Office and Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research described atmospheric dynamics being linked to the extreme rains and subsequent flooding in Pakistan and the suffocating heat wave in Russia.
In a piece in The New York Times, journalist Jutin Gillis cites Jay Lawrimore, chief of climate analysis at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carlolina, who states that “extreme events are occurring with greater frequency, and in many cases with greater intensity,” and that "excessive heat in particular" is “consistent with our understanding of how the climate responds to increasing greenhouse gases.” The piece goes on to mention that scientists expect wet areas to get wetter, dry areas to get drier and stronger storms in both winter and summer due to the physical principle that warmer air can hold more water vapour.
As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Vice-Chairman Jean-Pascal Van Ypersele explains in Le Monde, heat waves are more likely to occur in an ever-warming climate. As a result, the increased evaporation will add moisture to the atmosphere which, after condensation, is bound to cause heavier downpours when all conditions are put together. A study published by Prof. B.N. Goswami in the journal Science in 2006 backs this up, as it showed that the frequency and magnitude of extreme rain events monsoons over India had more than doubled since the 1950s, implying an increased potential of disaster from heavy flooding.
Although not establishing a direct link between climate change and the current extreme climatic phenomena, the latest IPCC report, published in 2007, clearly underlined the influence of human activity on climate change and warned for more heat waves and floods should average global temperatures continue to rise.
While Gillis points out in his NYT piece that it might be a year or two before climate scientists are able to publish definitive analyses of the heat wave in Russia and the floods in Pakistan. Some scientists hypothesize these severe weather events were caused or worsened by an unusual kink in the jet stream, a phenomenon in itself which might be linked to climate change. Yet the piece also mentions that "certain recent weather events were so extreme that a few scientists are shedding their traditional reluctance to ascribe specific disasters to global warming."
Moreover, as population increases at a rapid rate in these regions, the more frequent extreme weather events are bound to result in higher death tolls as time goes by. Therefore, "while there is still research to be conducted on the subject," according to Van Ypersele, "we do not need more evidence before taking action."
Helping Pakistan: a Matter of Humanity
As you all know, the International Polar Foundation usually keeps to its mission. Yet, whether you feel concerned by the future of our Earth or not – and we all should – you cannot, as a human being, not be moved by the dramatic events that are currently striking Pakistan.
While I do not intend to overwhelm you with figures (they are on the front page of all newspapers worldwide), or spread misplaced catastrophism, I want to tell you that the amount of people struck by this horrible tragedy equals to the entire Belgian population.
Poor among the poor, all these people had was a patch of land that they cultivated all year around, or their little itinerant trade, a tiny stand at the local market. They had nothing much, but enough to sustain their household, and sometimes the neighbors’, a little something to make the children a bit happier. The water, thunderstorms and mudflows have swept it all away, and today, 15 million people – and thousands of children – have nothing left.
This is why I am asking you to react. Not only as an ambassador for Unicef or because I know the country particularly well for having been there multiple times, but because of human dignity. This dignity is what makes a human being care about other people’s fate and, when needed, show compassion.
Today, economic and social perspectives in Pakistan look disastrous. The epidemics are looming in the countryside as well as in the cities and rebuilding the devastated areas depend on international funds, and therefore on all of us.
Let us all act for the planet. Let us help our Pakistani friends.
IPF Chaiman of the Board