New Report to Warn Climate Change Already Fueling Extreme Weather

from Wildlife Promise

Flooding in downtown Memphis, May 2011 (via Flickr's Chris Wieland)

As we head into the final months of 2011, you hear a lot of talk about how it may be remembered most for its extreme weather. But a new report is set to warn the intensity of this year’s floods, heat and drought aren’t freak occurrences - they’re the direct result of man-made climate change:

For a world already weary of weather catastrophes, the latest warning from top climate scientists paints a grim future: More floods, more heat waves, more droughts and greater costs to deal with them.

A draft summary of an international scientific report obtained by The Associated Press says the extremes caused by global warming could eventually grow so severe that some locations become “increasingly marginal as places to live.”

The report from the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change marks a change in climate science, from focusing on subtle shifts in average temperatures to concentrating on the harder-to-analyze freak events that grab headlines, hurt economies and kill people.

“The extremes are a really noticeable aspect of climate change,” said Jerry Meehl, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “I think people realize that the extremes are where we are going to see a lot of the impacts of climate change.”

For all the talk about the cost of acting to cut carbon pollution, the report is a reminder that Washington’s failure so far to put America on the fast track to clean energy comes with high costs of its own. The new IPCC report is due out later this month, and you can be sure you’ll be seeing a lot more about it here at NWF’s Wildlife Promise.

Anne Thompson took an in-depth look at the issue last night on NBC Nightly News, concluding, “Today, no one can deny that extreme weather is here to stay”:

Dr. Amanda Staudt is the lead author of the National Wildlife Federation’s series of scientific reports on how the climate crisis is fueling extreme weather. Here’s her take on the reports:

Two things jump out at me about the new IPCC study and the segment on NBC. First, the longstanding reticence about connecting extreme weather events to climate change is clearly fading away. As more and more places have experienced record-setting extremes—from the flooding in Thailand to the drought and wildfires in Texas—there is increasing awareness that something is out of whack with our climate and that these events are increasingly hitting home.

Second, the conversation is quickly and necessarily shifting to what communities can do to reduce their vulnerability to such events. The IPCC reports devotes a lot of attention to what makes different places more or less vulnerable and how to prepare for and respond to these risks. As the costs of these extreme events continues to rise, these actions to adapt to climate change are becoming increasingly attractive.

To learn more about how global warming is affecting weather in your community, go to NWF.org/ExtremeWeather. And to learn more about the cost of inaction if we don’t cut carbon pollution now, read the NRDC report The Cost of Climate Change.