The death toll was remarkably low–about the same as the U.S. experienced due to Katrina–but 13 million had to flee their homes and truth be told, work is continuing on repairing the damage.
It caused a spate of commentary by climate activists linking the floods to global warming. Typical were Joe Romm’s comments of August 12, 2010: “How hot is it? So hot that even the status quo media is waking up to the fact that human emissions of greenhouse gases are changing the climate and causing record-smashing extreme weather events, just as scientist predicted decades ago.”
Romm was quickly joined by bloggers ranging from John Rennie to Open Mind’s Tamino. The key quote running around the blogosphere came from Kevin Trenberth: It is irresponsible not to mention climate change. … The environment in which all of these storms and the tornadoes are occurring has changed from human influences (global warming). … With global warming the low level air is warm and moister and there is more energy available to fuel all of these storms and increase the buoyancy of the air so that thunderstorms are strong. … On average the low level air is 1 deg F and 4 percent moister than in the 1970s.”
The case to be made is that climate change is predicted to not only increase precipitation in unlucky regions, but concentrate it. The additional rain or snow falls in the same number of storms. The IPCC has noted the several papers advancing this theory and there hasn’t been much in the way of dispute.
The problem is that this was predicted for far in the future, after the globe had seen 2C or more of global warming. This was ahead of schedule.
Were the scientists wrong in thinking it would take so long for this to occur? Or did the media jump the gun in blaming global warming?
The media had been primed for this–Russia had undergone a savage heat wave in and around Moscow and much of Texas was experiencing a severe drought. Climate change was already being discussed as, if not the direct cause, at least a major contributing factor.
In retrospect we can see that the major media weren’t inventing the story–respected scientists and government officials came forward to support the thesis. “Global warming is one reason” for the rare spate of weather extremes, said Friedrich-Wilhelm Gerstengarbe, a professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “We will always have climate extremes. But it looks like climate change is exacerbating the intensity of the extremes,” said Omar Baddour, chief of climate data management applications at WMO headquarters in Geneva. Then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview on Pakistan TV, said “there is a linkage” between the recent spate of deadly natural disasters and climate change… “We are changing the climate of the world.”
These folk were joined by Osama bin Laden on attributing the floods to climate change. But was it true?
The flood was unusual, but hardly unprecedented. A larger flood struck Pakistan in 1930 and one of equal strength in 1950 and another in 1961. The effects of the 2010 flood were severe–but that’s primarily because the population of Pakistan has grown rapidly, from 32.5 million at the time it gained independence in 1947 to 187 million today.
There were numerous more cautious statements being made by scientists–statements that were either ignored or patted on the head like a good boy and put in the corner while the search for red meat continued. Time wrote “Now it’s important to remember that major floods have been happening in this part of the world since well before humans began worrying about the impacts of global warming.”
And in September of 2010 an article by Madhav Kandehar was published in the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society’s journal. In it he wrote, “A rapid transition of the ENSO phase from El Niño to La Niña between spring and summer of 2010 appears to be the key element in triggering a vigorous monsoon of 2010 over the Indian subcontinent…….the 2010 Pakistan floods, although seemingly unprecedented, were well within natural variability of monsoonal climate over the Indian subcontinent.”
My takeaway from this is simple. Unusual weather events happen. They always have. If global warming continues unchecked we may reach a day when weather events of unusual scope and intensity become more frequent. But that day is in the future, not the present.
And we do favors to nobody when we allow scare talk to go unchecked. It doesn’t help the Pakistanis. It doesn’t help rational discussion of climate issues. It may bring a temporary surge in traffic to scaremongers. But most of them don’t even have ads on their sites so you can’t really even say it helps them.
So why do we continue to do it?