London’s Met Office revised its predictions about climate change last week.
Climate change deniers were quick to misinterpret this as proof that global warming was slowing down.
Actually it said that, although temperatures over the next decade may be slightly lower than predicted, they will remain at near record levels.
A Met Office statement says, “We will continue to see temperatures like those which resulted in 2000-2009 being the warmest decade in the instrumental record dating back to 1850.”
Around the world we are seeing extreme shifts in weather patterns.
The Middle East has been hit by wintery storms. A foot of snow fell in Jordan last week.
A heatwave in southern Australia is so extreme that the country’s bureau of meteorology has had to add new colours to its temperature forecasting chart.
Some parts of Britain were flooded three times in 2012—the second wettest year on record. Yet India’s vital monsoon rains are predicted to fail more often.
And in the north Atlantic the hurricane season has been getting more intense since 1995, with 2005 standing as the most intense year on record.
Despite the scientific consensus that climate change is real, serious and caused by human-generated carbon emissions, right wing pundits seize on any “evidence” to the contrary.
At the same time, many blamed the mass destruction of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and floods in Pakistan in 2010 on climate change.
Undoubtedly climate change makes the world’s weather system more unstable.
And as with all “natural” disasters, the death toll can only fully be explained by a society that deems the lives of poor people not worth saving.
But individual disasters are complex. The Earth’s atmosphere and oceans contain a huge number of interlinked ocean currents and wind cycles.
Global warming can affect them all in different ways.
This can certainly increase the likelihood of certain kinds of extreme weather.
We can’t say any specific hurricane was caused by climate change, but we can say global warming means there will probably be more of them.
It’s also likely some regions will get colder as warm currents are diverted, even as the system as a whole gets warmer. Some models suggest this will happen to Britain if enough Arctic ice melts.
Nor does this happen in a uniform, gradual way. It can take years for an ice sheet to weaken, and then just hours for it to break up.
That’s how Arctic ice cover collapsed so dramatically last summer.
And many of these sudden changes can themselves make warming speed up. These are called positive feedback, or tipping points.
For example, ice sheets reflect more heat back into space than seawater does, so when they melt more heat is absorbed.
The longer climate change goes on, the harder it will be to stop or even slow down. Left unchecked it will mean more flooding, crop failures and freak tropical storms.
Under an economic system driven by the ruthless accumulation of profit, millions or even billions could be left to die.
That same system stands in the way of reducing emissions now, before it is too late.