Friday, October 23, 2015

The Road Not Taken In Climate Change

In The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost said,
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Some people view this as a celebration - by taking the road less traveled he had good experiences that he might not have had otherwise. Others view it as a lament - this road led him to things he would prefer he hadn't experienced. Either way, the point is made. We all have that occasion to go right or go left and the decision makes 'all the difference.'

That time has long since passed when it comes to climate change. We came to the branch in the road decades ago and decided not to take the path of dealing with it. Now, we are in a time and place where manmade climate change is a reality we have to deal with. That is why I find it interesting to see articles about whether or not global warming is responsible for some weather event.

In recent months, we have seen massive heat waves that have left thousands dead in India and Pakistan, huge flash floods in the Southwest that swept away homes and cars; incredible drought in California resulting in record amounts of wildfires and eventual mudslides; super-typhoons in the Pacific; and a '1000-year' flood in South Carolina, to name just a few. For all of these events (and many more), the question is always raised - is this the result of global warming? The problem is this question makes no sense.

Asking this question supposes we know of some alternative time-line without manmade climate change, one where we can check the weather on a given date and compare it to our own timeline to see how they compare. If we hadn't changed the climate, would California still have a drought? Would South Caroline still have a '1000-year' flood? Would thousands still be dead from heat in India and Pakistan? How do we know and how could we possibly know? The best we can do is make an effort at calculating the probabilities of such events. And, of course, how can you tell if this particular event is the result of AGW or not?

The answer is, they are all the result of AGW - every single one of them. In fact, all weather is the result of AGW. We are responsible for every single weather event, no matter how mild or severe. The reason is weather doesn't just pop-up out of nothingness and climate change isn't some switch you can flip on or off. Significant AGW has been ongoing for over 40 years. That means any climate system today is the end product of a 40-year climate system that has been changed by our emissions.

There is the claim in chaos theory that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Rocky Mountains can cause a storm in Miami three days later. I don't subscribe to this belief, but the point is important. If weather is so sensitive that a butterfly flapping its wings can change it, then what will be the effect of 40 years of AGW? Wouldn't everything be different as a result?

There is no alternative timeline to which we can compare our weather. All weather today is the result of manmade climate change caused by human emissions. There is no other possible conclusion. And, we made the decision decades ago to do nothing about that. We chose our path in the woods and that has made all the difference.

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