Environment Forum

Floods? Droughts? Wildfires? Hurricanes? Yes, there is a climate change connection

For years, climate scientists were circumspect when asked if a specific bit of violent weather — for example, Hurricane Irene, the late-summer storm that slammed the heavily populated U.S. East Coast — could be blamed in some way on climate change.

“Climate is what you expect,” the scientists would say, “while weather is what you get.” They would often go on to say that while increasingly severe weather and correspondingly serious costs and consequences were forecast in climate change computer simulations, there was no way to directly blame a given storm on human-generated heat-trapping gases in Earth’s atmosphere.

There still is no direct line between a certain amount of warming and a certain storm, wildfire, drought or flood. But there is a “new normal,” detailed by scientists on a new website . Staffed and advised by some of the most well-known climate change experts in the United States and elsewhere, the site says plainly that what the computer models foretold in 2007 is clearly documented to be occurring.

“All weather events are now influenced by climate change because all weather now develops in a different environment than before,” the Climate Communication site noted in an article released days after Irene dumped record amounts of rain on the U.S. Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

“While natural variability continues to play a key role in extreme weather, climate change has shifted the odds and changed the natural limits, making certain types of extreme weather more frequent and more intense. The kinds of extreme weather events that would be expected to occur more often in a warming world are indeed increasing.”

Must the natural gas industry clean up its act?

Natural gas is regarded as a relatively clean source of energy but there is mounting evidence that it has a dirty side.

My colleague Jon Hurdle has reported on Wyoming water woes that have been linked to the booming gas industry. You can see his stories here and here.

In August U.S. government scientists reported that they had for the first time found chemical contaminants in drinking water wells near natural gas drilling operations, fueling concern that a gas-extraction technique is endangering the health of people who live close to drilling rigs.

Are wildlife and water replacing oil and cattle in Texas?

Frates Seeligson is one of many ranchers contending with an historic drought in the hard heart of Texas. You can see a report on the situation by myself and photographer Jessica Rinaldi here.

Seeligson, an affable fourth-generation rancher who farms to the east of San Antonio in an area currently suffering from what has been dubbed “exceptional” drought conditions, told me that “there are only so many ways that you can make money from dirt.”

In Texas, much of the money from dirt has come from two commodities that have iconic status in this rough and tumble state: oil and cattle.

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