August 2, 2011
Partisanship in Washington has been extreme lately. So has the weather. Might there be a connection? It certainly looks that way.
Let’s talk about heat. As anyone living in Washington—or in about three-fourths of the nation for that matter—has surely noticed, this summer has been unusually hot. In fact, July’s heat was unrivaled in 140 years of Washington, D.C. weather record-keeping.
This year’s record heat across much of the country is not the only sign that something is amiss with our climate. This year, we have also experienced record-breaking droughts, flooding, and storms.
A word of caution: Reputable climatologists don’t ascribe individual weather episodes to the buildup of heat energy trapped by greenhouse gases. Weather is short-term, climate is long-term. One heat wave does not prove that the climate is warming, nor does a mid-winter cold snap prove that it isn’t.
However, the more heat energy that is trapped in the lower atmosphere, scientists tell us, the greater the odds that what we think of as extreme weather will no longer be extreme. It will be the new normal.
Or, to put it another way, there is no way to link a case of lung cancer to a particular cigarette. Yet the more one smokes, the greater the odds that the smoker will contract lung cancer.
Let’s talk about science. Conservative climate researcher Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University says that the buildup of heat energy is “loading the dice” for climate extremes. A National Research Council report that she had a hand in writing projected global warming impacts by degrees of temperature increase – if temperatures rise 2 degrees, X will happen. If temperatures rise 3 degrees, even more of X will happen.