[Reader-list] the new normal

Nagraj Adve nagraj.adve at gmail.com
Sat Jul 7 08:13:55 IST 2012

I've rarely heard John Vidal write with the anguish he does at the end of
this piece.

 As the climate changes, extreme weather isn't that extreme any more

With the US heatwave and Europe's rain, records are tumbling. Formerly rare
occurrences are becoming the new normal

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   -  [image: John Vidal] <http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/johnvidal>
      -  John Vidal <http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/johnvidal>
      - guardian.co.uk <http://www.guardian.co.uk/>, Wednesday 4 July 2012
      16.21 BST
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 [image: A liquor store advertising ice in Washington DC]
A liquor store advertises ice in Washington DC. Photograph: Brendan
Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Britain and northern Europe are dripping their way into what is already
being called a "lost summer". We have had our wettest
June <http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jul/02/june-record-wettest-month>and
our coldest spring, and there is no end in sight of the abnormal
weather. But we can take some comfort in the fact that we are not alone.

In the US, 100 million people in 17 states have now had to be warned about
the dangers of one of most intense heatwaves of the last century. Life in
many US cities has become unbearable, with temperatures well over 100F
(38C) lasting for many days now. More than 40,000 temperature records have
already been set in the US this year and freak storms, record rainfall and
giant forest fires have left millions suffering. Many old people will
certainly die in the heatwave and food prices are bound to rise.

But this extreme weather is far more widespread than just northern Europe
or the US. May was the second warmest ever recorded worldwide and the
warmest on record for the northern hemisphere. The link between a warming
atmosphere and individual climatic events is unclear but no one should
doubt the physical turmoil. In the last few weeks we have seen the Arctic
sea ice melting at a record pace, the Amazon reaching its highest level on
record, massive forest fires in Siberia and the Russian east, temperatures
climbing to a barely imaginable 48C in northern India, and an abnormally
strong monsoon which has so far left many hundreds dead and nearly 7
million people homeless from floods in Assam and southern Bangladesh.

There's always been freak weather, but climatologists increasingly think
these events are becoming less unusual. Instead of taking place every 10 or
20 years, they are happening every two or three. This, they are beginning
to say, is the new normal, a taste of the future as the planet warms.

Last year was the 35th consecutive year since 1976 that the yearly global
temperature was above average. Since 2000 we have had 11 of the 13 warmest
years in 132 years and the patterns of global warming that scientists
warned about – such as more droughts, sudden downpours, more widespread
wildfires, volatile heat, violent storms and more frequent heatwaves – are
all here now. This, say the scientists with increasing conviction, is what
the early stages of global warming looks like.

So how much more extreme weather does it take for governments and
individuals to act, or for the oil companies to withdraw from the Arctic,
or the media to link global warming with the events now being witnessed
around the world? Must the sea boil, the Seine run dry, New York flood and
the London Olympics be consumed by fire before countries are shocked into
taking concerted action? The reality is that even as the world experiences
increasing numbers of weather-related disasters and extreme events, climate
change has dropped off the rich countries' political and media agendas, and
public concern is said to be waning – to the cheers of the sceptics and

This is a most dangerous period. We still have a very good chance of
avoiding the worst of climate change but the collective will to try to do
anything appears to be weakening and confidence in politicians is at rock
bottom. Unless the climate of opinion changes, the present economic storms
may seem as nothing.

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