Ecocentric

Climate Change Equals Hot Summers. Case Closed.

An unusually explicit climate scientist drops the hedging and says what more and more people believe

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Spencer Platt / Getty Images

A man pushes a cart of bottled water during warm weather in New York City on July 6, 2012

Every time a major heat wave, drought or hurricane occurs, journalists call up climate scientists to ask if global warming is the cause. Nearly every climate scientist has the same stock response: while global warming can make extreme events more likely or more powerful, we can’t say climate change is causing that string of 100°F days or that Category 5 hurricane. This includes other extreme events like the severe dryness that has left more than three-fifths of the continental U.S. in some form of drought. Sure, we can expect more heat waves and extended dry periods in a global-warming future, but no reputable scientist would say that what’s exceedingly likely to unfold over time is directly responsible for what’s happening in 2012.

But James Hansen is different. The NASA climate scientist is one of the world’s foremost global-warming researchers, and almost certainly its boldest. It was Hansen who testified before Congress on climate change during the landmark hearings in 1988 — during another hot, dry summer — warning of the risks of man-made greenhouse gases. And it was Hansen who, over the past several years, has embraced the role of the scientist-advocate: marching in protests against the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, calling for a carbon tax as a way to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and authoring the popular science book Storms of My Grandchildren. Hansen has no reluctance to speak out about why man-made climate change is so dangerous — and how it should be fixed.

(PHOTOS: Summer Heat Wave Roasts the Midwest, Northeast)

So it shouldn’t be surprising that Hansen is willing to go further than most of his colleagues in tying extreme weather to global warming. In a new study published in the Aug. 6 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, he uses relatively straightforward math and analysis to reach an explicit conclusion: the recent extreme heat and drought of the sort that has sacked much of the U.S. is so unusual that the only thing that could be causing it is man-made climate change. No hedging, no yes-but, no cautious qualifying.

“Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change,” Hansen wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post last weekend. “To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.”

(LIST: How Hot Can It Get? The 10 Hottest Places in the U.S.)

Hansen and his team looked at the recent past — rather than trying to model the future — to see if they could find the signature of man-made climate change through day-to-day and season-to-season weather. They used the period of 1951–80 as a base because it was a meteorologically stable stretch that also had a wealth of global weather data, unlike earlier periods. During that time period, extremely hot summers — like the one much of the U.S. is experiencing now — occurred only in 0.1% to 0.2% of the globe in a given year. But since 1981, extremely hot summers have baked about 10% of the earth’s land area annually — and in recent years, that percentage has been even higher.

That means the odds of experiencing an extreme summer have risen from 1 in 300 during the 1951–80 period to nearly 1 in 10 now, according to Hansen’s calculations. “I don’t want people to be confused by natural variability,” he said in a statement. “We now know the chances these extreme weather events would have happened naturally — without climate change — is negligible.”

(MORE: The Great Drying Strikes Again)

Hansen’s math isn’t new, but he is much more willing to connect — in a peer-reviewed paper — extremely high temperatures to climate change instead of more natural weather phenomena like the El Niño and La Niña oscillations. Hansen also argues that global warming has made the climate more variable: while extremely hot weather is more likely to occur during the summer, about 15% of the summers over the past 30 years have actually been cooler than the 1951–80 average. To take the title from a new book by the nonprofit Climate Central — which includes the work of TIME contributor Michael D. Lemonick — what we may be experiencing is as much “global weirdness” as global warming.

For the public, the details of fingerprinting extreme-weather events may matter less than the fact of heat and drought itself. And this summer’s outlandishly tough weather — I’m beginning to expect that Oklahoma will simply burst into flames one of these days — is clearly having more of an impact on public opinion than a scientific paper ever could. A recent study found that for every 3ºF that local temperatures had risen above the norm in the week before a survey on climate change, belief in climate change rose by 1%. A July study by the University of Texas found that 70% of Americans surveyed believed the climate was changing, up from 65% in the cooler months of March. If there’s one thing we can take from Hansen’s work, it’s that those temperatures are more and more likely to hit extremes in the years to come, which means belief in climate change should continue to rise as well. Now we just need to do something about it.

PHOTOS: Extreme Heat: 10 Worldwide Spots with Tough Temperatures

189 comments
BrentWalker
BrentWalker

Try the sun.

Go back to the late 18th C and early 19th C and you will see similar climatic events. Look at the sunspot records based on the same methodology as Wolfer system at that time and you will see the current cycle of the sun is mimicking or possibly even lower activity than solar cycle 5 (late 17th early 18th C). We called them little ice ages back them but they were actually extreme weather periods.

Google Astrometria project on the Russian/u/Ukrainian section of the International Space Station. Read what Abdussamatov has to say. You have been hoodwinked into believing that we are to blame. The evolutionary forces that continue to shape our solar system and galaxy are infinitely greater.

S.F.Canyon
S.F.Canyon

typical liberal bull$hit...'nuff said! This is why the best use I can find for this publication is to line a pigeon cage....

Talendria
Talendria

It's willfully ignorant to think that humans have no effect on the ecosystem.  History offers numerous examples of how land and water management can change local weather phenomena, often for the worse.  Unfortunately, no one has developed a weather model that is sophisticated enough to predict the changes, and forestalling these changes would require a sea change in our behavior.

realheadline
realheadline

Hansen should just blame the weather on the witch next door, then sacrifice a chicken or two. His current fortune-telling is the most unscientific nonsense yet. Read what his own colleagues say about his activism ...Err... science. He is a Charlatan and may very well be in violation of the Hatch act. Shame on Time magazine for repeating the lies.

GOPvictory
GOPvictory

So why is it Europe is cooler and wetter than usual this summer? Oh by the way, what happen to all the record amount of tornadoes to be expected in July?

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Gary McCray
Gary McCray

As it continues to get hotter, dyer, more droughts and more bad weather and eventually we get famines and mass death from the lack of food caused by the heat and drought, will you believe it then.

Or will you simply say it's not our fault, God did it.

Just for the record, God didn't do it, we did.

Orson Olson
Orson Olson

"Hansen...uses relatively straightforward math and analysis to reach an explicit conclusion: the recent extreme heat and drought...could be causing it is man-made climate change. 

Actually, this is not "straightforward" but dumb: first, the US is not the globe in "Global Warming," which by the best and most accurate measures (ie, satellite) has not been warming for 10 to 15 years. Second, if later 20th century warming is compared with the mid-20th century cooling, you would expect to find warming patches. This is a circular natural fact, nothing uniquely causal about it. Thus, at best, Hansen offers another guess without any scientific merit supporting a positive (ie, man-made CO2 caused it) conclusion. 

my conclusion? Brian Walsh needs an intro stats course refresher, especially "How To Lie With Statistics."

nonpolitical
nonpolitical

Kevin. Exactly - change does not imply global heating nor man made climate!

Andy Yang
Andy Yang

as a student studying environmental science  at uc davis, i understand the probabilities behind climate research-- epa states global warming is "very likely" (~80% chance) caused by humans.. so i rarely comment on climate change even though i knew skeptics were clueless on how these numbers were derived.. but now i think people are more open and fair in judging these numbers.. sadly, only when the weather's gotten hotter

Sardonic_Soul
Sardonic_Soul

What isn't it surprising that Time would go immediately to the most extreme wild eyed "scientist" for a definitive answer that backs the Obama Tax policies on big business?  Don't make any mistake -- the "Climate war" is really a thinly disguised rational for more taxes, bigger government, and more government control.  Time needs to change it's name to "Pravada!" to match it's function as the Socialist Mouthpiece.  Hansen's made a LOT of money being the government mouthpiece.  So has Time.

Godzilla1960
Godzilla1960

Many of these climate change deniers tend to be pro-business conservatives worried about the cost of undoing the mess we have created.

I would like to ask, if your company had data that strongly suggested that it was heading for a financial calamity would you sit back in the boardroom and say, "let's not do anything until the company actually goes under."

There is strong evidence that is getting stronger every year that we are heading for disaster.  It is downright immoral to condemn our children to this future simply because we don't like the news we are getting.

Gabe S.
Gabe S.

Skeptics or not, we can't deny that humans are having an unprecedented and unsustainable effect on the planet. It's important to teach the new generation and the present one that the planet must be respected. Otherwise, the global economy will be the least of our worries when, pollution, over-fishing, lack of clean water etc start to become serious issues. Do your part :]

RenueThePlanet.Com

JohnDonohue
JohnDonohue

EXCUSE ME: how can the rate of "1 in 300" be applied to a sample of 30 units?? How did you arrive at "about 15% of the last 30 summers?"  Hmmm....that multiplies out to 4.5 summers. WhatzUpWithThat?  Not to mention, this a ludicrously small sample, in tiny tiny blink of an eye in a Holocene which is always somewhere on an up- or down-slope, oscillating until it is time to bring back ice one mile thick at Chicago.

You know, the rest of the Holy Consensus is seething that Hansen does stuff like this, namely duct-tape weather to climate. First, it takes away their insane lust to slam skeptics who (unfortunately) do the opposite by pointing to recent cold winters as indication of Climate Cooling; and Second, because Hanson is so monumentally inept at making the rational case -- yet he is a Saint of the Holy Consensus -- his gaffs and propagandizing sap the credibility out of other circumspect studies and scientists trying to get it right.

Shame on Time magazine for not citing the compatriots of Hansen who have already chimed in that this latest glob of Hansen Pudding is melting in the sun. Also shame that you focus on a public opinion poll (read: emotional whiplash effect) as reality, rather than the voices already raised against Hansen by those "on his side" or neutral.

nonpolitical
nonpolitical

Climate change equals hot summers. What a joke! This summer in nothern norway is the coldest ever! Hansen is defending his original mistakes about climate!

kms123
kms123

Several hundred years ago Galileo was arrested for this scientific views by ignorent people. It is interesting to see that the world has not changed much in the 21st century. People with no scientific expertise or evidence criticize the experts in climate science. These are probably the same people who don't belive in Darwin's theory of evolution. Politicians in some states have even tried to prevent the teaching of  the theory of evolution in schools.

Ger Smith
Ger Smith

I remember my first time watching the Day After Tomorrow....

frediano
frediano

They used the period of 1951–80 

So, they used the period when global temperatures were falling, and pinheads like these were warning us all about impending Global Cooling in the 70s.

The desperation is palpable, and these charlatans are busted.

geordiegit
geordiegit

I wish some of that global warming would arrive in the U.K. at summertime.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Global warming is unfolding as predicted, maybe a bit faster and picking up speed.

It is getting hotter and drier and since heat = energy, more extreme weather events are becoming more common.

Even if we immediately ceased all ongoing negative effects, the situation would continue to get worse for hundreds of years.

The result will be a drastic reduction in agriculturally viable land and in our ability to produce food. 

The Oceans are drastically over fished with whole fish populations simply gone.

Most if not the vast majority of the worlds population is going to die.

ImprovingTomorrow
ImprovingTomorrow

Dangerous climate change is not a scientific debate, it is a developing daily news item. The US national oceanographic and atmospheric administration (NOAA) documented more severe weather events in 2011 than in the entirety of the 1980s. In the month of March alone, in only the US, 15,292 temperature records were broken, some in a disturbing new way with nighttime temperatures surpassing previously recorded daytime highs.  Flooding and drought affected roughly half a billion people, more than 7% of the world's total population in, 2011, now a half of the continental US has been declared a disaster area due to drought by the US Department of Agriculture. All of these things were confidently predicted by climate science decades ago. Other examples of climate research predictions coming terrifyingly true in real world events are so numerous you could list them for days. Thousands of lines of independent research, and the overwhelming majority of relevant peer reviewed science supports our understanding that humanity's lead foot is stomping on the gas pedal of climate change. When there are a thousand lines of evidence that a thing is happening, pointing out a flaw in the methodology of one or two of them does not magically invalidate all the others.  We are causing it. It is real, now, and deadly serious. 

Every national academy of sciences on the planet concurs with the basic IPCC findings, as well as a huge majority of other significant scientific organizations of all types, even the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.  No major scientific bodies anywhere on earth argue that human caused warming isn't threatening - it is a tiny handful of individuals making the opposite claim.  It is well documented that not only are the exact same strategies being used to attack climate science as were previously used to hide the link between cancer and smoking, but many of the same people are also directly involved. The book "Merchants of Doubt" by Naomi Oreskes explores this at length.  These techniques are dialed to 11, well-funded and supported by fossil fuel industry lobby groups such as the Heartland Institute, whose leaked internal documents reveal deliberate systemic efforts to attack science in schools and who publicly link climate concern with mass murderers.  There is no alternate theory of any kind that stacks up to even cursory scientific scrutiny that may explain what is happening around us.  

The precautionary principle suggests that sanity includes exercising caution when a behaviour has potentially disastrous impacts.  If your doctor tells you eating deep-fried butter for dinner five times a week is 90% likely to cause a heart attack within six months, you don't insist “I'm going to keep doing it until you're 100% sure.” You don't call him a socialist, manipulating you just to steer your hard-earned dollars from noble, deserving, hard-done-by fried butter corporations to get it into the greedy hands of fat cat small-scale local agriculture. You don't snort “Enough with the science talk, college snob! I'm getting a second opinion from my plumber!” You don't tell yourself “that's not relevant today, I don't have to think about it for six whole months.” You pause for at least a moment and ask yourself “Am I making a healthy choice? Do I want to live?”

Thousands of reputable scientists says it's a very serious problem, but science is conducted by humans and humans are fallible. Either the science is correct, or it isn't, but whether we're asking the right questions and understanding the information correctly doesn't entirely matter. We don't get to choose the facts. So let's imagine that we make a chart where column A says “the science is right” and column B says “the science is wrong.” We are in one of those columns, and we don't get to pick which one, we can only make the best educated guesses that we can. There is one thing that we do get to choose, though, and that is how we respond to the science. We either ignore the science and carry on with business as usual, or we take the science seriously and make changes to the way we collectively do things, so make those line 1 and line 2 down the side of our chart. Line 1 looks like this: If we follow business as usual, and the science is right (column A), it spells the end of human civilization as we know it. If we continue running our civilization the way we do right now, and the science is wrong (column B), the world stays pretty much the same. We're still running out of oil, damaging our environment, and widening the gap between rich and poor in a world where billions are crushingly poor, but we might be lucky enough to keep a climate we can effectively live with. So those are the possible outcomes of choice number one. Here's line two: If we make the kind of changes climate science calls for, and the science is correct (column A), we save civilization from oblivion and assume the mantle of greatest generation ever, revered by millennia of future humanity. If we make those changes and the science is wrong (column B), we reduce health and environmental hazards associated with dirty technologies, we have fewer global conflicts over depleting fossil fuel resources, and essentially, we make a better world for ourselves by accident. Oops. We don't get to choose whether the science is right, but we do choose how to respond to it, so which line on that chart would you rather live in?  By the way, published peer reviewed scientific articles supporting column A outnumber those from column B by a ratio of 601:14, that’s almost 43:1, and this in a world where all the most powerful vested interests would do just about anything to prove column B, so how lucky do you feel? 

I personally find it valuable to look at denial of the science and the reality of our world changing around us as a pathological problem.  Consider googling "panglossian disorder" to find work by noted psychologist Kathy McMahon on the subject.

William_Teach
William_Teach

Summers are going to be hot? We're doomed, that never happened before over the past 4.5 billion years!

Joe Mushroom
Joe Mushroom

In case you didn't know, most of CO2 on the planet comes from the oceans which evaporate. CO2 has not been proven to pollute either. Plants thrive off it and give off Oxygen. We people are catching on to these lies in media and education.

Many meteorologist experts agree Global Warming (oh wait you call it Climate Change..) is a scam.

I live in an extremely hot country, and despite it being so hot I don't buy the Global Warming scam. The Earth's temperature changes naturally, we had ice ages before, it is a cycle of life. By the way guys do you know where you tax money on Global Warming goes?

I urge anyone who has questions do do their own research on the topic, instead of pestering me with the answers all the time. Despite spending loads of time on the internet, I do have a life of my own. Have a nice day. Thanks.

Palerider1957
Palerider1957

I remember back in the 70's Time had similar articles about "climate change".

Of course back then, it was "The Coming Ice Age. Case Closed". In fact, Time had no less than 5 covers dealing with the coming ice age, and the "Cooling of America".

What's it going to be in another 10-15 years Time. "Man-Made Sunspots" because we use rockets to go into space? That the sunspots are causing climate change, or a magnetic field flux, come on Time, fire all the nincompoops you now have calling themselves "journalists" and hire real journalists.

Then clean out your Executive offices and replace them with men and women of integrity.

But don't worry, all those fired nincompoops will have no problem getting  jobs at other reputable papers and magazines. Like the National Enquirer.

Oh, wait, I got it, Time is trying to be like MAD Magazine, a comedy magazine. My bad. Finally got the joke.

Time, thanks, I needed a good laugh this morning.

mroooo
mroooo

It's simple, if you don't have a degree in climatology then you can basically shut it.

The scientific community has been doing nonstop research on climate change for decades. Peer reviews and consensus are what drive scientific knowledge, not public opinion and politics.

Let the scientific community do its job and give them some respect for crying out loud. The deniers are no different than flat-Earth zealots in the 17th century.

ScienceNow
ScienceNow

How could putting 80 million tonnes of stored carbon in the atmosphere everyday not affect climate?  And the trillions of tonnes we have already put in? What about the trillions of tonnes we will continue to put in over the next 40 years?

Now the climate science deniers are also math deniers.

 

Alix
Alix

DM, it has always been climate change as long as I have been hearing about it. Predictions of more extreme weather, including but not limited to more heat, have always been a part of the study of the effect of greenhouse gases on the environment. Additionally, the planet in general *is* warming--by about a degree so far. People who do not understand the science think that would only translate into sweltering summers (and also think, what's a few degrees going to do?) but the warmer temps change how much moisture is in the atmosphere, ocean and air currents etc. and it all adds up to a climate in which our lifestyle and even existence is at risk. The amount of extreme weather we are experiencing is far beyond what would be natural, which is part of what this article attempts to explain.

I know it is tempting to have a dismissive reaction, but if you think about it, we as a society have put far more resources into problems that pose far less risk.

joukot
joukot

So, many people behave like the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh: "But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet again, and hardened his heart, he and his servants." Exodus 9:34. Obviously, if one does not want to believe something, nothing in the world will change that. Unfortunately, even the most stubborn false beliefs will not change the laws of Nature. Carbon dioxide will prevent the escape of heat out of the globe whatever your beliefs.

TheErnie
TheErnie

Record cold in Australia, they say it is the coldest summer in decades.

Jim Speed
Jim Speed

Just wait.. Piers Corbyn (Astro Physicist) says we are starting into another "Mini Ice Age".. when that happens we will ALL wish we had some global warming.