The short answer is “No” – but…
Yesterday in Alex Au “Yawning Bread” – very wise words from Singapore I particularly admired this:
The fact is, when it comes to knowledge, we’re always swimming in a soup of relativity and incomplete data; this is true even when it comes to scientific knowledge. The ability to deal critically with the relative and the incomplete is what makes intelligence. It is those who cannot function under these conditions and must cling to absolutes, who ultimately do not understand the world.
Climate science is one discipline where the findings are inevitably relative and incomplete, such is the complexity of the factors, not all of them certain, which shape climate. That does not invalidate the 90% certainty most reputable scientists both within and outside the climate science discipline attribute to its major findings and prognoses. That is in fact a very high degree of certainty. However, somewhat less certainty applies when commenting on a particular event such as the current floods in Pakistan, parts of India and China and the extraordinary weather seen in Russia this summer.
What is emerging, however, is that these events are linked.
The devastating Russian heatwave and Pakistan floods are caused by one unusual weather pattern – the static jet stream, meteorologists say.
The northern hemisphere jet stream, a fast-moving high-altitude air current, circles the earth from west to east. But in the past month, a "blocking event" has brought the jet stream to a halt, keeping weather patterns stationary over certain countries.
"Over Pakistan, the weather pattern is just staying with the monsoon, and the monsoon is bringing drenching rains," weatherzone.com.au meteorologist Josh Fisher said.
"But this jet stream is also bringing dry air from eastern Africa right up into Russia and this continuous heatwave is allowing the wildfires to build."
Australia is not caught up in this rare phenomenon, as the southern hemisphere has a separate jet stream based around the south pole, Mr Fisher said.
The effects of the stalled jet stream across Europe and the US have been catastrophic.
In early July in the eastern states of the US and Canada, a heatwave caused numerous deaths and power cuts.
In Pakistan, about 1600 people have died since floods struck in July and early August, while about 14 million are struggling to cope with the consequences of the natural disaster, the UN and Pakistani government said.
In Russia, an unprecedented heatwave has triggered about 557 wildfires and left the capital Moscow cloaked in heavy smog. Moscow’s daily mortality rate has doubled to about 700, the city’s health department head said, with city morgues almost full.
Mr Fisher said the Rossby waves – spinning wind currents that give the jet stream its wavy form by pushing it north and south – are responsible for the stalled jet stream. The waves have been stronger this year, working against the jet stream and bringing it to a halt. This blocking pattern, while difficult to predict, usually lasts about eight to 11 days, he said.
"The one that brought the hot temperatures to the US lasted over a week, while the current one affecting Pakistan and Russia has been persisting for already around eight days and could last for a few more days."
But less is known about what triggers this abnormal activity.
Climate change has been cited as one possibility, but scientist Gerald Meehl of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado told the New Scientist magazine there was no way to test the theory, as the resolution in climate change models was too low to replicate weather patterns such as blocking events.
Another cause could be low solar activity, Mr Fisher said. Low solar activity has already been linked to an increase in cold winters in Europe, with activity on the sun declining since 1985, Professor Mike Lockwood of the University of Reading said in findings published in April…
The planet has never been as hot as it has been in the first half of this year, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a July report.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has tracked the impact of human activity on climate for the past 20 years, droughts and heatwaves likes those affecting Russia and 18 US states become longer and more intense in a warming planet.
"Whether in frequency or intensity, virtually every year has broken records, and sometimes several times in a week," said Omar Baddour, who tracks climate change for the World Meteorological Organisation.
"In Russia, the record temperature in Moscow [38.2 degrees in late July] – which had not been seen since records began 130 years ago – was broken again at the start of August. In Pakistan, the magnitude of the floods is unheard of," he said.
New Scientist has a couple of well-balanced articles on these events and their connection to, or lack of connection to, global warming: Frozen jet stream links Pakistan floods, Russian fires and Is climate change burning Russia?
… Is climate change to blame?
Computer models of climate are not detailed enough at present to reproduce blocking events, making it impossible to say whether rising greenhouse gas concentrations makes them more likely to happen.
However, whatever the mechanism, there is a large body of evidence to suggest that climate change increases the number of heatwaves and make them longer. Since 1880 the frequency of extremely hot days has nearly tripled and the length of heatwaves across Europe has doubled. Models also predict that climate change will push up peak temperatures faster than average temperatures.
This is an example of climate change’s tendency to increase the likelihood of extreme weather events. The number of very hot days is forecast to increase fivefold by 2100. One model study has suggested that Paris, France, will seethe frequency of heatwaves grow by 31 per cent over the century, and that by 2100 they will last twice as long.
The consequences will be widespread. Agricultural yields are likely to drop, and summer death rates will rise worldwide. True, winter death rates will drop during milder winters, but this will not offset the extra summer deaths.
However, it is important to bear in mind that no single weather event can be reliably linked to climate change. "It’s a statistical tendency, a push in one direction," says Joanna Haigh of Imperial College London. The Russian heatwave might have occurred anyway, without help from greenhouse gases. All we can say for sure is that such events are more likely in a warmer world…
Climate change will continue to push temperatures upwards and make heatwaves both more frequent and more severe. Knight notes that, while western Russia has roasted in record-breaking temperatures, more easterly regions like Siberia have been subjected to continual flows of cold air and have actually been several degrees below the average temperature for the time of year (as shown in the temperature data in this graphic).
So the connection between the recent disasters and climate change is uncertain, if likely. It should also be noted that global warming blindfolders wanting to use the weather in Siberia as evidence against global warming are themselves jumping to unwarranted conclusions.
The following article may then be over-certain, even if I tend to agree with it: Climate Ostriches: Why Russia’s and Pakistan’s Extreme Weather Is About To Become the Norm.
Record-setting temperatures in Russia, floods in Pakistan: it’s tempting to categorize these as simply fluke weather events. And many media outlets are doing just that. But to do so is a disservice to the public. Acting like ostriches won’t help us solve the problem. The media should be helping to connect the dots: what seems extreme now will be tomorrow’s norm if we continue to ignore that these events are harbingers of climate change, and they’re patterns with real human consequences.
If Moscow were in the United States, it would be located somewhere just south of Juneau, Alaska. Yet since July 29, Muscovites have endured at least five days that have been hotter than the previous record of 99 degrees, set back in the 1920s. Prior to this summer, Moscow had never seen a day with triple-digit temperatures. Now, it’s seen several…
The connection between these weather events and climate change couldn’t be more unambiguous. But the mainstream media first avoided referencing climate change, when it should be the headline. CNN, for example, at first seemed to care more about the political fallout from the Russian heat wave. Instead of simply remarking how unprecedented these weather events are, outlets should be asking why they’re happening now and what it means for our future, and that means pointing readers to the many scientific studies that help contextualize this activity and show that climate destabilization will cause more extreme weather. That’s not advocacy of one viewpoint or another, it’s journalism. (Despite some encouraging signs that the media has finally begun to wake up to the relationship between this summer’s brutal weather and climate change, this report by the New York Times shows that some editors are still asleep at the wheel.)
We can keep our heads stuck in the sand and pretend what’s happening will go away. Or we can disabuse ourselves of any responsibility, just to say "I told you so." Or we can, for once, look at what’s happening now and do what’s necessary to mitigate and adapt to the forces of our changing planet.
It’s clear what our choice has to be.
On the other hand let global warming blindfolders consider this: if you are wrong then you are very very wrong — “sorry about that, Chief” won’t look too flash to our great-grandchildren in 2100. If on the other hand notice is taken of climate science’s warnings then the worst we end up with is a whole set of new technologies and new sources of energy with less dependence on coal and oil. Isn’t that in our best interests anyway?
…Some scientists are now stating the obvious: Russia’s heat wave simply would not have happened without the influence of fossil fuel pollution on our atmosphere. University of Texas climate scientist Michael Tobis is “hazarding a guess” that “the Russian heat wave of 2010 is the first disaster unequivocally attributable to anthropogenic climate change”:
But right now I feel like hazarding a guess. As far as I understand, nothing like this has happened before in Moscow … The formerly remarkable heat wave of 2001, then, is “the sort of thing we’ll see more of” with global warming. But it may turn out reasonable, in the end, to say “the Russian heat wave of 2010 is the first disaster unequivocally attributable to anthropogenic climate change.”
Meteorologist Rob Carver, the Research and Development Scientist for Weather Underground, agrees. Using a statistical analysis of historical temperature records, Dr. Carver estimates that the likelihood of Moscow’s 100-degree record on July 29 is on the order of once per 1,000 years, or even less than once every 15,000 years — in other words, a vanishingly small probability. However, those tiny odds are based on the assumption that the long-term climate is stable, an assumption that is no longer true.
Like Dr. Tobis, Carver believes that manmade global warming has fundamentally altered weather patterns to produce the killer Russian heat wave. “Without contributions from anthropogenic climate change,” Carver said in an email interview with the Wonk Room, “I don’t think this event would have reached such extremes or even happened at all”…