How’d You Like That Hurricane We Made?

Writing about journalistic treatment of the superstorm and climate change, CJR‘s Curtis Brainard (10/30/12) criticizes the New Yorker‘s Elizabeth Kolbert for the wrong reason.Hurricane Sandy (NASA)

He takes issue with her statement (10/29/12):

As with any particular “weather-related loss event,” it’s impossible to attribute Sandy to climate change. However, it is possible to say that the storm fits the general pattern in North America, and indeed around the world, toward more extreme weather, a pattern that, increasingly, can be attributed to climate change.

He’s unhappy with the second part–retorting that you can’t attribute a trend toward extreme weather to climate change. But it’s actually the first part that’s most obviously problematic: Contrary to Kolbert, it’s possible to attribute every weather-related event to climate change.

As Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research says, in a paper quoted by Brainard:

All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.

In other words, all weather that we will experience from here on out will be a result of human-caused global warming. There will never be natural weather ever again–at least not on a human timescale.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t any bad weather before humans started messing with it–of course there was. But we can look back and compare the weather we used to have with the weather we have now. For example: Did we used to have hurricanes hitting New Jersey in late October? If not, that’s a difference between the old kind of weather and the weather we’ve made.

How do we like our new weather?

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.