Creeping Climatic Catastrophe - 2007 a "mega disaster"
October 6, 2007 7:34 AM   Subscribe

A record number of floods, droughts and storms around the world has been characterized as a climate change "mega disaster" by a senior UN official, a measure based on 13 emergency "flash" appeals (PDF, map) issued so far this year (pic gallery) - three more than in 2005 which held the previous record. Sir John has expressed frustration at how little media attention in the west is being devoted to what he terms a global "creeping climatic catastrophe".
posted by stbalbach (39 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
But my lawn is doing great! Maybe needs more fertilizer.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:36 AM on October 6, 2007


If the media starts paying greater attention to all this "global warming" nonsense, they might make their larger advertisers angry. We can't have that, y'know. Profits ├╝ber alles.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:40 AM on October 6, 2007


Never underestimate the power of denial.

Besides, most of the people being affected are brown.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:57 AM on October 6, 2007


Global warming's not an issue Dr. Phil or Sanjay Gupta can cover in 4 minutes.
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:11 AM on October 6, 2007


it's october 6th and here in southwest michigan none of the leaves have changed color, today it will reach 88 degrees, and the front page of the newspaper shows people flocking to the beach.

however my ex-wife has a picture from 1965. The entire family perched on a picnic table in the lush green back yard. in swimming suits. on christmas day.

in 15 years we'll be back to fretting about the oncoming ice age.
posted by quonsar at 8:15 AM on October 6, 2007


Armageddon!
posted by nickyskye at 8:41 AM on October 6, 2007


More importantly, though, is WHY WON'T OBAMA WEAR A FLAG PIN?!?!?!
posted by briank at 8:44 AM on October 6, 2007


Personally, I'd like to know what is defined as a "disaster," I'd like to see actual statistics on the "record number," I'd like some analysis on deviation from the mean, and I'd like some scientific evidence of common causation among these disasters before I accuse the entirety of Western Civilization of racist neglect.

I apologize in advance for being in such a pathetic state of denial.
posted by dzot at 8:45 AM on October 6, 2007


If the media starts paying greater attention to all this "global warming" nonsense, they might make their larger advertisers angry.

Most of the media is owned by the corporations that make the products that are being advertised. I mean, hell, NBC is owned by GE, which basically owns everything ever.

War, consumerism and, in the near future, products to make life easier in a world of unpredicatable extreme weather are all things GE loves with a passion. No fuckin' way are they going to have NBC say word one about it all!
posted by five fresh fish at 8:50 AM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well folks, something had to happen to freeze the poles.
Be it natural or unnatural. The Grand Canyon was created by a huge mass of water. Where'd the water come from or go?
Is this Big God's way of cleansing the Earth? Tornado Alley!
What killed the dinosaurs? Is it happening to us? The only solution I see is some good beer, some good bourbon, some good friends, some good smoking weed, and the biggest party this world has ever seen.
posted by doctorschlock at 8:58 AM on October 6, 2007


Swimming lessons for polar bears. Cinderblocks for Floridians.
posted by Reggie Digest at 9:09 AM on October 6, 2007


I'd like to know what is defined as a "disaster," I'd like to see actual statistics on the "record number," I'd like some analysis on deviation from the mean, and I'd like some scientific evidence of common causation among these disasters before I accuse the entirety of Western Civilization of racist neglect.

I agree 100%. I believe in global warming but I am sick of every single stroke of lightning and every tornado being flagged as evidence of climate change.
posted by rolypolyman at 9:18 AM on October 6, 2007


Whenever I start to worry about this, I just think about how bad it would be if humans could actually affect the environment.
posted by Mr_Zero at 9:20 AM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


environmental issues draw the most amazingly stupid comments.
posted by kitchenrat at 9:41 AM on October 6, 2007


It irks me that authentic, genuinely disastrous climatic change is trivialised with schlock media craving for scandal/shock adrenaline rushes as attention grabbing headlines. Not bad enough to have global warming, sounds too banal. Must add Super Volcanoes, Nuclear War, Mega Tsunamis, End of the World, "Texas-sized asteroid". Mega disasters!!!!!
posted by nickyskye at 10:08 AM on October 6, 2007


I just wrote a post yesterday in my blog, that deals with that very issue. If you go to Del.icio.us, and look at their most popular tags, only one has to to with the environment, and it is at the bottom of the list. Looking even closer, here on Metafilter (another post of mine, from a few days ago), very little of the general discourse concerns itself with what should be a top priority for all of us.
posted by lamarguerite at 10:47 AM on October 6, 2007


"however my ex-wife has a picture from 1965. The entire family perched on a picnic table in the lush green back yard. in swimming suits. on christmas day."

Hey! I was born in Detroit just before Christmas in 1965. My mom loves to tell how my dad had to mow the lawn in December of that year. Michigan has crazy weather. I remember a few decades ago we had 90 degree weather in March/April and then it snowed in June.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:54 AM on October 6, 2007


My wife and I were just discussing the almost-90-degree weather here in Michigan.

I have this horrible feeling, deep in my gut, that in 10 years time we'll have gone from asking "Is climate change happening?" to "Who do we save, and who do we blame?"
posted by Danaid at 12:09 PM on October 6, 2007


Danaid, see here.
posted by quonsar at 1:48 PM on October 6, 2007


oops. i mean here.
posted by quonsar at 1:49 PM on October 6, 2007


If the media starts paying greater attention to all this "global warming" nonsense, they might make their larger advertisers angry.

Nah. I think the kind of confusion quonsar is representing is more than enough to explain why weather makes the news so much more often than climate.

It's not hard to imagine that "No snow at Christmas... In Michigan!" is an easier story to sell than "Is climate sensitivity for doubled CO2 as high as 6 degrees celsius? One scientist thinks it could be."
posted by sfenders at 2:40 PM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


What if these changes have nothing to with humanity's perceived effect of the environment? We could simply be experiencing a nearly imperceptible degradation of our planet's orbit around the sun. Nothing more than perhaps millimeters closer or further away could potentially lead to a dramatic shift in climate.

Our presence on this spinning rock in space is much more precarious than anyone can fathom. We tell ourselves that we can do something about to make ourselves feel better, but dinosaurs did not go extinct because they were using too many fossil fuels. They just died. It happens.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:03 PM on October 6, 2007


dinosaurs did not go extinct because they were using too many fossil fuels. They just died. It happens.

Right, dinosaurs died because of a sudden and radical change in the atmospheric chemical composition (brought on by a meteorite). In our case 150 years of rapid burning of fossil fuel reserves. It happens.

re: Michigan, weather != climate. A single Indian Summer in Michigan (and 20+ other states) is an "extreme weather event". They are called "extreme" because they don't happen very often. If they start happening often, they are no long "extreme" and become "normal" - that is a climate shift, from an extreme state to a normal state. A normal day in Louisiana is an extreme day in Michigan. The individual weather events that lead Michigan to have Louisiana climate will happen in fits and starts over time, which is why it's called "creeping" - it is hard to detect by normal common sense observation and experience. Anyway, always keep in mind that weather != climate, but extreme weather events are a possible sign of climate in the process of changing, in particular if those extreme events are happening more commonly than usual (as the current UN data suggests).
posted by stbalbach at 7:56 PM on October 6, 2007


very little of the general discourse concerns itself with what should be a top priority for all of us

True. Probably because it makes us feel bad, guilty, scared, confused, angry, etc.. even responsible .. so we ignore/deny it and move on to flashing pretty pictures and beating thumping sounds, like monkeys in a cage hitting the unlimited free cocaine button (click click click click).
posted by stbalbach at 8:12 PM on October 6, 2007


"...brought on by a meteorite..."

Oh please. That's a hypothesis. Well actually, it's a guess and I question if it's an educated one.

There's been no empirical evidence to affirm with any certainty that a meteorite caused dinosaur extinction. It's just that we can't find any large dinos carbon dated after when we think a certain meteor hit. That's entirely coincidental, and circumstantial.

Considering it's being discovered repeatedly that archeologists have been known to fabricate discoveries, I'm lending as much credence to archeology as I do to religious fervor.

The only thing we can say with any certainty is this: we don't know.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:14 PM on October 6, 2007


world peace!
posted by kittyshopping at 8:47 PM on October 6, 2007


What if these changes have nothing to with humanity's perceived effect of the environment

I'll bite: what if? 'cause, y'see, I don't see where you're headed with this. Is your argument going to be that we should change nothing? Do you see that as having a long-term advantage, let alone sustainability?
posted by five fresh fish at 11:36 PM on October 6, 2007


It's just that we can't find any large dinos carbon dated after when we think a certain meteor hit. That's entirely coincidental, and circumstantial.

Okay, sure, but the main competitor to the meteorite impact theory as the main cause of the K-T extinction is volcanic activity, which is even more obviously analagous to modern climate change. There are other theories, but most of them are either minor variations on these, or just ridiculous; and all that iridium had to come from somewhere.

I admire your skepticism if it's genuine, but to suggest that the current trends in global climate could be explained by the earth's orbit unexpectedly changing by just a few millimetres is total nonsense, and I for one know that with about as much certainty as it's possible to know anything. You might as well blame it all on sunspots.

No doubt the effects of solar forcing on global climate is an interesting thing to study, but as RealClimate put it: "Some contrarian commentators have recently fallen into the habit of mass mailing any new solar-related abstracts and implying that the existence of solar forcing in the past negates any possible recent anthropogenic impact on climate. Since these studies do not have any implication for the radiative impact of CO2, and don't change the fact that there has been no effective change in any solar indices since about 1950, it is hard to see a substantial basis for this (implied) argument."

Assuming you fell for that implied argument to the extent that you think it's as likely to be true as any other theory, you demonstrate another reason why the mass media often can't do a good job on reporting this stuff: They don't often have the resources to distinguish genuinely interesting research from wishful thinking dressed up to be vaguely scientific-looking. It's not easy, but if you're going to say "we don't know" as opposed to "I don't know", you've got to make the effort.
posted by sfenders at 6:48 AM on October 7, 2007


The only thing we can say with any certainty is this: we don't know.

In fact, we do know the dinosaurs were probably killed off by environmental factors having to do with a change in the atmosphere. For the purposes of this discussion and its context, the "theory" we have is good enough for the point being made. Just because we don't know for "certain" doesn't invalidate some pretty good ideas that are widely accepted (not as "gospel truth" but very likely possible). In fact we know *nothing* for certain. This is feeling like a pretty silly conversation.
posted by stbalbach at 7:33 AM on October 7, 2007


This is feeling like a pretty silly conversation.

Not yet as silly as this one, in which ZachsMind attempts to argue that evolution and creationism are equally plausible, since they're both just theoretical ideas. In that case I think he's a little closer to a legitimate point, since some versions of creationism aren't incompatible with evolution, even though what's usually meant by it is. But he is guilty of making some positive statements too, like "I have to mow the lawn tomorrow." How could he possibly know that? It rests on unproven assumptions such as the lawn being his, the existence of some obligation to mow down the growing grass, that it will otherwise continue to grow, and that the lawn exists at all. All merely theories supported by circumstantial evidence.

It can be edifying to think like that, but selectively applying it only to hypotheses for which the evidence is relatively more complex is a common mistake.
posted by sfenders at 8:16 AM on October 7, 2007


Not yet as silly as this one, in which ZachsMind attempts to argue that evolution and creationism are equally plausible, since they're both just theoretical ideas.

Oh, FFS, that's just stupid. Zach, try harder.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:48 AM on October 7, 2007


ZachsMind: Considering it's being discovered repeatedly that archeologists have been known to fabricate discoveries, I'm lending as much credence to archeology as I do to religious fervor.

Well, I don't know if I'd trust an archaeologist with paleontology, anyway.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 4:47 PM on October 7, 2007


But I do have to mow the lawn tomorrow. My landlord said so.

The science that exists today, which we so take for granted and assume is accurate, will be laughed at a century or two from now. Believe it or not, people just a few centuries ago lived and died with a whole slew of presumptions that we find completely preposterous and insane today. Prior to Dmitri Mendeleev, mankind used to think there were only four elements. Thirty years ago mankind presumed that three of them were funky.

I don't suspect sunspots. I DON'T KNOW what causes global warming, but I do know that if you plant a small explosive inside a ball that can be detonated remotely, launch the ball in the air, and in midflight set off the explosive, it will change the trajectory of said ball, if but a little bit, provided it doesn't destroy the ball entirely.

How many nuclear explosions have gone off on this planet in the past century? I'm not talking about radiation. I'm not talking about pollution.

We're all fleas on this dog. You're worried about its hind leg scratching at us and think you can do something about it. I'm talking about the large bucket of soapy chemicals his master is about to dip him into- and us with it.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:32 PM on October 7, 2007


How many nuclear explosions have gone off on this planet in the past century?

I dunno. 600 megatonnes worth for a wild guess? That'd be enough, if all the energy were somehow directed to changing the earth's orbit, to move it closer to the sun by about 0.15 millimetres. Then we could get (approximately, my calculator can't handle numbers as big as those required to directly calculate it, and the atmospheric changes caused by the ensuant dramatic changes in global climate might get in the way) 0.0000000000001% more energy out of our solar panels. In reality, nuclear bombs generally don't send any significant mass flying off the earth at escape velocity, so there would be no such effect. Still, an amusing calculation to make.

On the other hand, calculations a little more complicated can show that the amount by which the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has changed recently should have actual measurable effects on global climate via the greenhouse effect, based on nothing more than direct experimental observation of its properties. This would give only a very crude estimate indeed of the actual effect, but according to my calculations, the chance that it's less than the effect of changing the earth's orbit by 0.15mm is considerably less than the probability that the person to whom you've been paying rent the past few months is actually the evil twin brother of your landlord, who intends next week to steal all your stuff and use the money to buy a nuclear bomb that he'll use to change the earth's orbit.
posted by sfenders at 7:25 PM on October 7, 2007


The science that exists today, which we so take for granted and assume is accurate, will be laughed at a century or two from now.

This is a common fallacy. Science theories are rarely overturned, they are engulfed by larger theories that better explain the phenomenon. The original theory is not wrong, as far as it went, we just have better models that explain even more phenomenon. So, Newtonian physics is just as accurate today, and still useful, even though it has been surpassed by other theories.
posted by stbalbach at 6:53 AM on October 8, 2007


Indeed.

I conclude Zach is a troll, and that we'd all be far better off no longer responding to his drivel.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:29 AM on October 8, 2007


In late Sept / early Oct in mid-Ohio, leaves have been changing color and falling, but not because of crisp afternoons and brisk nights. No, they're stressed from a long, dry summer that's ending this week with record high temperatures -- almost three weeks later than normal, it's around 90 (F) out. This, after a bitter cold snap in late April that nipped the buds on those same trees so badly that they had to re-bud in order to bloom and leaf out later than normal. (First time I ever saw it spittin' snow during an Easter sunrise service, too.)

I'm really looking forward to some "normal" fall weather, but I guess "normal" is a notion due for some rough treatment over the next few decades. I suppose next I'll be reading about kudzu thriving north of the Ohio.
posted by pax digita at 1:00 PM on October 8, 2007


Much to my surprise, most of our trees are still mostly green, despite chilly mornings. There's been snow at the tops of the hills, but down here the trees seem to be perfectly happy with it all.

It weirds me out. I expected fall by now.

If we get a green Christmas, though, I'll be perfectly happy with it. I loathe winter, and snow just makes it worse.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:48 PM on October 8, 2007




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