Inheriting the Whirlwind of Extreme Events

This article looks at the huge upswing in extreme events around the world. Imagine this: the worst-ever tornado season, the worst flooding, and worst heatwave  have hit the US this year. And they may yet experience one the worst hurricane seasons. “24 Hours of Reality” online broadcast documented this Sept 15 to help people clear their heads of the fossil fuel propaganda and open their eyes to the crisis we are facing.  — Stephen

There are four anti-climate change lobbyists in Washington for every member of Congress.”

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 15, 2011 (IPS)

The dramatic increase in extreme weather that has affected hundreds of millions across the planet is one of the clearest signs that burning billions of tonnes fossil fuels has seriously and permanently disrupted the global climate, experts say.

That is the reality former U.S. vice president Al Gore is focusing on Thursday through an unprecedented live online event called “24 Hours of Reality” broadcast from 24 time zones and reaching millions of viewers in multiple languages.

“In 30 years of weather forecasting I have never seen extreme weather events like those in the last two years globally,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder and Director of Meteorology for Weather Underground, the web’s first commercial weather service.

“I never thought we could have the greatest outbreak of tornados, the worst-ever flooding, record heatwaves and droughts all in one year,” Masters told IPS at a press conference last week in reference to the multi-billion-dollar extreme weather the U.S. has endured this year.

“The hurricane season is only half over and is on pace to be a record year as well,” he said.

Masters and other climate experts say is the “new normal” for the coming decades is the reason why. Burning of oil, gas, coal puts billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it traps more of the sun’s heat in what is known as the greenhouse effect.

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That additional heat warms the oceans and air and allows more moisture to be retained in the atmosphere, scientists have long since proven. The enormous amounts of additional heat and moisture now trapped in the atmosphere are the potent fuel for extreme events.

“More than 1,400 high temperature records were broken in July in the eastern U.S.,” said Jerry Meehl, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Sat pix of bone-dry Texas and southwest

Record drought has parched Texas, where this week 88 percent of the state was officially rated as “exceptionally dry”, a category above extreme and at the top end of the drought scale.

Lots and lots of temperature records were broken in 2010 around the world, Meehl said, which is remarkable and worrying given the fact that the average global temperature has increased only 0.8 degrees C.

“It demonstrates that small changes in average temperatures can produce a very noticeable change in extreme events,” Meehl said at the same press conference.

The ratio of record low temperatures to record warm temperatures for a year used to be one-to-one around the planet, he said. Now it is one cold record for every three warm records. That’s projected to increase to one cold for every 20 record-breaking warm days in the coming decades.

This is because “the climate system is being pumped up by additional heat energy from climate change,” said Meehl.

“This year weather records have been completely smashed….it is as a clear a warning as we will get about climate change,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist who is also at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Gore is amplifying that warning Thursday through 24 Hours of Reality, the multimedia event that makes the connections between extreme weather events and the climate crisis. The event is organised by The Climate Reality Project, a new name for Gore’s nonprofit organisation.

Gore also makes it crystal clear who is responsible for global warming and in preventing governments from taking actions needed to reduce emissions.

Alaska's burning tundra during drought of 2007

“Fossil fuel interests and their ideological allies have spent hundreds ofmillions of dollars a year to prevent action,” Gore said during one of the panel discussions. “There are four anti-climate change lobbyists in Washington for every member of Congress.”

Like the tobacco companies who kept the public confused about the dangers of smoking for 40 years, fossil energy companies have paid pseudo-scientists, institutes and think tanks to mislead the public about the reality and risks of climate change, he said. “They try to play on people’s natural resistance to change.”

Extreme events make climate change visible to the average person and denying that reality is becoming untenable, which is why Gore believes people around the world will stand up and force their governments take real action.

The Climate Reality multimedia presentation contrasts the bone-headed statement by leaders of the U.S. Republican Party and pundits on the Fox News Network with news footage of extreme weather disasters around the world. However wrong, dangerously disconnected from reality or just plain silly they are, the Barack Obama administration is caving into them.

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it will not meet a court-imposed deadline to propose rules for limiting greenhouse gas pollution from power plants.

That means the U.S. will do little to reduce its emissions.

Perhaps knowing this, Gore says the “24 Hours of Reality” event is all about “educating and engaging the public about the reality of the climate crisis and helping build the global movement for change”.

First published as Inheriting the Whirlwind of Extreme Events – IPS

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