by Dan Lashof, via NRDC’s Switchboard
We dump billions of tons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere each year. As a result, the concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by 40%. Excess carbon dioxide traps excess heat in the atmosphere. Excess heat causes extreme heat waves, droughts, and storms.
And that’s what we have been seeing. In June alone, 170 all-time high temperature records were broken or tied in the United States, and more than 24,000 daily high temperature records have been broke so far this year. If the climate weren’t changing, we would expect to see about the same number of record highs and record lows set each year due to random fluctuations. That’s what we were seeing fifty years ago, but during the last decade there were twice as many record highs as record lows. So far this year the ratio has been 10 to 1.
This year’s extreme weather follows last year’s. The last twelve months were the hottest on record for the United States. Texas saw its hottest and driest summer on record in 2011 by a wide margin, and research published this week shows that carbon pollution dramatically increased the probability of such extreme heat and drought.
Faced with similar information about the carcinogens in cigarette smoke, the mechanism by which these carcinogens cause genetic mutations, and the statistical relationship between smoking and cancer, the Surgeon General says that smoking causes cancer. Of course that doesn’t mean that every individual case of cancer experienced by a smoker can be definitively attributed to smoking. But the Surgeon General does not feel compelled to say that every time she says that smoking causes cancer. And journalists don’t feel compelled to include that caveat every time they write an article about the health toll of smoking.
The Surgeon General’s warning hasn’t always been this clear. In 1966, when cigarette packages were first required to carry a warning, the package said “Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health.” A few years ago a similarly tepid warning may have been appropriate for carbon pollution. Not anymore.
The data are in. It’s time for scientists and journalists to just say it: Carbon pollution causes extreme weather.
Dan Lashof is the director of the National Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean air program. This piece was originally published at NRDC’s Switchboard and was reprinted with permission.
- What Is Causing The Climate To Unravel?Answer: One trillion tons of carbon pollution.
- Every Network Gets Extreme Weather Story Right, ‘Now’s The Time We Start Limiting Manmade Greenhouse Gases’ — ABC