Heat wave, fires driven by climate change, scientists say


The very real problem of global warming is leaving its mark upon the U.S. this summer, researchers say, as scorching heat plagues most of the country. As wildfires continue to blaze throughout the Southwest, they - and the heat wave that caused them - provide the clearest evidence yet of climate change, according to scientists. And it's only going to get worse.

Over the last eight days, 2,400 high temperature records have either been tied or broken. Last week, parts of Kansas reached an unbelievable 118 degrees. And a strong, straight-line wind storm (called a derecho) ripped through the East Coast, killing more than 20 people and leaving millions without power in their homes.

All this shows that those who buy into the right wing's pro-oil, pro-profit agenda of climate change denial need only step outside to realize the truth, scientists say.

Kevin Trenberth, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his climate change work, remarked, "Look out the window right now and I think you can see climate change in action. I don't think we've ever seen conditions like this before. There's a component of climate change to the weather we're seeing, and we're breaking records."

Since 1950, the number of heat waves worldwide have increased, according to the National Academy of Sciences. In the past 10 years in the U.S. specifically, new record high temperatures have outnumbered new record lows on a consistent basis by a ratio of 2 to 1. Some of these heat waves have also been increasingly marked by high humidity, but those that haven't may be worse: low-humidity waves are the culprits behind droughts and wildfires.

The most recent brushfire resulting from these conditions is Colorado's Waldo Canyon Fire, which continues to burn all the way to the edge of Colorado Springs. Elsewhere in the state, the High Park Fire is also burning, its ashes polluting nearby water and potentially killing fish life there.

"What we're seeing here really is a window into what global climate change looks like," said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer. "It looks like heat; it looks like fires; it looks like this kind of environmental disaster."

Many scientists feel that society is currently ill-prepared for global warming, which would seem correct, given Republicans' attacks on environmental concerns.

Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science, noted that sometimes, Republicans "latch onto a particular belief - in this case, that global warming is a hoax" and feel that "more knowledge about [the issue] is not necessarily going to open their minds. And we see this in the Tea Party, where we have the highest levels of global warming denial. And they don't want any more information, thank you very much."

Mooney also noted that media outlets like Fox News serve as a "feedback mechanism" for Republicans - if they want to believe false things, FOX gives them all the license they require.

"There are now a host of studies showing that Fox News viewers are more misinformed about various aspects of reality," including climate change, Mooney said. "So if you've got Fox News, you've got a place to reaffirm your beliefs. Conservatives opt in, they get the misinformation, their beliefs are reaffirmed, and they're set to argue, argue, argue about why they're right and all the scientists of the world are wrong."

But much of what scientists have predicted since the late '80s has now come true in regard to global warming.

"This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level," said Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona. "The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms, and wildfires. This is certainly what I and many other climate change scientists have been warning about."

Photo: A plume of smoke from Colorado's High Park Fire. Blazes like this one will worsen and occur more frequently as global warming worsens, experts say. Ed Andrieski/AP

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  • jim---- I think that your formulation ("intelligent republican") is an oximoron. (& I can't spell it!)

    Posted by bruce bostick, 07/11/2012 10:20am (4 years ago)

  • Let's not forget who was denying the connection between coal plants and acid rain, cigarette smoking and cancer, CFCs and ozone depletion, etc. It's the same old people, playing their latest game of bull.

    Many of them are also Creationists, of course. Those nitwits have been playing the denial game for a century and a half. How long will AGW deniers stick to their guns?

    I see very little morality in today's Republican Party, and wonder how the small percentage of Republicans who aren't science-deniers reconcile their views with the idiocy of the majority. I'd be embarrassed to be an intelligent Republican.

    Posted by Jim C., 07/10/2012 5:20am (4 years ago)

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

    As one who has been without power for over a week in 100 plus temperatures, I'm SO glad to see someone write this article. Outrageous temperatures, followed by extreme, powerful storms. This is exactly what 99% of all scientists have been telling us will happen if we continue on the same old fossil fuel path. Families have been without power, elderly folks tapped in, (some cases here), highrise apts, with pools closed for young people. It is like living in Hell, literally! I've moved in with relatives temporarily & the TV, paper, is full of just ridiculous blather (human interest stories, silly little antidotal stuff), but not a word about the actual scientific reasons that this disaster is occurring.

    Workers have been imported from Texas, Michigan & other states, housed in trailers, working 12-16 hour shifts. They are real heroes, working for inhumane corporate machines like American Electric Power (AEP), who'd cut the workforce to bare minimum before this crisis. At the parade for the 4th, the float that got the most appause was the "American Powerless Electric---APE," with guys in APE logos (just like AEP). People have cheered the workers, given them water, drinks &, they told me, waved and stopped cars to thank them, wish them well.

    It is so, so important to find ways to get the actual scientific message of why this is occurring and who is ultimately responsible for this growing human disaster.

    Posted by bruce bostick, 07/06/2012 9:28pm (4 years ago)

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