Most of the time I read something in the news about climate change, I cringe a little (or a lot, see Ventilation: Freeman Dyson), but this article by Michael D. Lemonick is excellent. It’s about Thailand, where my parents and a lot of my relatives live, and about the recent flooding that caused a LOT of damage so it was really fortunate that my parents and my relatives were okay.
The intro of the article does an excellent job of explaining the relationship between climate change and extreme weather events:
An obese, middle-aged man is running to catch a bus. Suddenly, he clutches his chest, falls to the ground and dies of a massive heart attack. It turns out that he’s a smoker and a diabetic, has high blood pressure, eats a diet high in saturated fat and low in leafy green vegetables, pours salt on everything, drinks too much beer, avoids exercise at all costs and has a father, grandfather and two uncles who also died young of heart attacks.
So what killed him? Most people are savvy enough about health risks to know this is a trick question. You can’t pick out a single cause. His choices and his genes all contributed to the heart attack — but you can say with confidence that the more risk factors that pile up, the more likely it is to end badly.
Somehow, though, people think that it makes sense to ask whether a given extreme weather event — a devastating heat wave or a punishing drought or a deadly torrential rainstorm — is caused by climate change.
That’s a trick question too. Scientists know that the increasing load of greenhouse gases we’re pumping into the atmosphere doesn’t “cause” extreme weather. But it does raise the odds, just as a diet of triple bacon cheeseburgers raises the odds of heart disease.
There was also a wonderful series of public service announcements about the flooding done by a non-profit group in Thailand. It’s scientifically accurate, accessible, and it even includes cute whales:
There is hope for science journalism/communication!