This is What Global Warming Looks Like. ~ Ryan Pinkard

Via elephant journal
on Jul 19, 2012
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Denver Post

Wildfires across Colorado, floods in Minnesota and Florida, heat waves and droughts, deadly  tropical storms—and that’s just the U.S. This has been a confusing summer of extreme weather, but there is an explanation.

As Jonathan Overpeck, a professor and scientist at the University of Arizona, told the Associated Press, “This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level.”

For years, scientists have been warning that global climate would bring extreme and devastating weather. This means that Colorado can experience record snowfall and precipitation one year, and be scorched by drought and wildfires the next year. Even more extreme, elephant’s home of Boulder can experience a June full of fires and record temperatures, only to see inclement monsoon rains the first week of July.

Of course over time, Colorado will see far less of the record precipitation and far more of the droughts and fires. Across the globe, 3,215 daily high temperature records were set this June alone.

As Overpeck said, “The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire. This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about.”

So why isn’t this extreme weather being talked about as a climate change issue?

For one thing, it is extremely difficult for scientists to draw a direct connection between weather events and climate change, even if they are obviously related. By nature, weather does change and extreme weather events happen. Where climate change is a longterm pattern, weather cycles are short term.

Nonetheless, we know that,

1.) Global average temperatures are rising.

2.) Isolated climates across the globe are experiencing extremes in weather at a frequency and level that were not seen 50 or 100 years ago.

Doubters will argue that a given year’s temperatures and precipitation depend on whether it is an El Niño or La Niña year. This is true of our short term whether patterns, but El Niño and La Niña themselves are determined by changes in ocean temperature. So as the average ocean temperature continues to rise, El Niño years may increase, while La Niñas may become less frequent.

Even if you are skeptical of the “global warming hype,” it seems reasonable enough to be included in the debate of increased extreme weather and natural disasters. However, the media have been a major failure in addressing the connection between climate change and weather.

A study by Media Matters found that a mere 3 percent of recent news stories on Western wildfires even mention climate change or global warming.

It’s hard to expect politicians to jump on the unpopular climate debate when the media (and therefore the public) aren’t even even talking about.

If people realized that burning homes and flooding neighborhoods could have something to do with the rapidly changing climate, they might take the issue as a whole more seriously.

And while the fires have been contained, and floods have receded, more extreme weather is sure to hit close to home before you know it.

Update: check out this related story from Rolling Stone.


Ryan Pinkard is an editorial intern at Elephant Journal. He is a wanderlust backpack journalist in training, and a student at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Find his writing and his images from around the world at Follow his reviews and exploits on music at


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16 Responses to “This is What Global Warming Looks Like. ~ Ryan Pinkard”

  1. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Ryan, I'm glad you said doubter rather than denier, with it's evil echo of holocaust denier.

    There is certainly enough evidence for human-caused global warming to make denial a political rather than scientific belief. But there is also strong evidence that the human component of warming is rather small, which makes certainty by the warming-believer side just about equally political. Doubt about human-caused global warming, no matter which way you are leaning, is reasonable.

    Not to gloat or rub salt in the heat of your horrendous summer over there in N. America, but this is probably the second coolest summer I've ever experienced in my 30 some years here in Tokyo. We've finally had three or four days of summer this week, but today we're cool again. Just saw on the news that they're wearing jackets in London. America's averages are hot this year, but how about the world averages? Anyone know?

  2. Great information, Ryan. And the article by Bill McKibben is quite compelling as well.

  3. carolhortonbooks says:

    I believe that global warming is real. I have friends who are scientists at top universities who believe it is real – and report that every scientist they know who works on this issue came under pressure to tone down or suppress their findings under the Bush Administration. (Of course, Obama has fallen short on taking action as well, to say the least.) I've read countless reports detailing how something like 98% of reputable scientists believe global warming is real. The few who don't that keep getting touted by the right-wing have no credibility in their field.

    It's so dismaying that so much of the American population seems to believe that people who spend their lives studying a subject in depth have no credibility. Honestly, to think that global warming is not a huge threat is to insist on checking out on the world of facts, science, and reason. If enough of us insist on ushering in a new dark age, that's what we're going to get – and we're well on our way already. But from what I've seen, trying to convince people who don't want to believe it is a complete waste of time. The evidence is there is you care to look – and don't believe that ideology trumps science.

  4. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Carol, that 98% (or whatever) is certainly worrisome. But there are some very high level scientists in the remaining 2% who point out that the basic assumptions of the computer programs that predict human-caused global warming have serious flaws. The world is warming (or had been until a decade ago, when a lull started) but postulating carbon in the atmosphere as the cause is problematic. Without an as yet undiscovered feed-back loop by which the effects of carbon are multiplied, there just isn't enough carbon added by humans to the atmosphere to explain more than a small part of the warming. Also, computer models based on the carbon-as-cause assumption predict certain side effects in the atmosphere that don't seem to be happening. I.e., the carbon-as-cause assumption doesn't fit the facts very well. As I said above, doubt is reasonable and certainty by either side is not. Certainty is a pretty good indication of following ideology rather than science.

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  6. Jill Barth says:

    Interesting piece — thanks for sharing.

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