A long-standing pet-peeve of mine is the way that, in the endless tug-of-war in the media and blogosphere over climate change, both sides try to score cheap points by pointing to isolated extreme weather events as evidence for or against the phenomenon. “Ha, there were several big blizzards this winter! Global warming my foot!” “No, actually more blizzards is evidence of global warming, believe it or not!” Extreme events like Hurricane Katrina or the Great Russian Heat Wave are waved as poster-children for the dangers of climate change, so right-wingers gleefully poke holes in the science of attempted attribution. You may recall that I posted on this subject, with particular reference to hurricanes, a few months ago.
Ricky Rood over at Weather Underground, the source for the best weather blogs around, has posted an excellent essay on the “Perils and Pitfalls of Event Attribution.” Although personally convinced of the reality and seriousness of climate change, Rood argues that the tendency of some climate scientists and the media to focus on individual extreme events and attribute them to climate change is counterproductive, bad science, and indeed impossible by definition. It reduces this crucial public discussion to cheap sound bytes and blaring headlines, drawing attention away from substantive verifiable claims:
“It is hard to see how playing the game of defining extreme events and then attributing that event to “climate change” can ever be won. In fact, it seems like it is a game that necessarily leads to controversy, and controversy is the fuel of talk radio, blogs propagating around the world, and the maintenance of doubt.”
The essay is well worth reading for weather buffs or environmental ethics buffs (yep, I’m talking to you, Byron. ;-))