Fires in the West and record-setting temperatures in the Central Plains and East Coast are leading items on TV news, but there is little media discussion of how extreme weather may be caused by climate change. An academician might say it all depends what you mean by ‘cause’. In a thoughtful piece in Grist, David Roberts discusses the record breaking set of wildfires in Colorado and distinguishes between ‘proximate causes’ like lightning or sparks from a tossed cigarette butt, and a ‘distal cause’ such as climate change which makes fires more likely.
Roberts suggests that saying “climate change caused the fires” is not necessarily false or exaggerated, any more than saying “drought caused the fires” is. What complicates the discussion is that a proximate cause such as ‘drought’ is less likely to be questioned than a distal cause, in this case ‘climate change’. As for the general public, at least a majority believe that the occurrence of extreme weather is related to global warming, according to a study published in April.
Despite the lack of attention to the role of climate change, and the persistent cries of the ‘climate change deniers like Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Barton (R-TX), according to the study Extreme-Weather-Climate-Preparedness, prepared earlier this year a majority of the public does perceive a connection between extreme weather and climate change. As stated in the NY Times, “The poll suggests that a solid majority of the public feels that global warming is real, a result consistent with other polls that have asked the question in various ways. When invited to agree or disagree with the statement, “global warming is affecting the weather in the United States,” 69 percent of respondents in the new poll said they agreed, while 30 percent disagreed.”
For more on climate change and extreme weather, visit Climate Progress.