The debate over climate change has long focused on determining attribution—whether rising greenhouse gases and global warming caused a particular storm, drought, flood, or blizzard. Now, a new study inNature Climate Change published Monday seeks to shift the underlying question from “if” to “how.”
“The climate is changing,” wrote National Center for Atmospheric Research scientists Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo and University of Reading physicist Theodore Shepherd in their study, Attribution of Climate Extreme Events. “The environment in which all weather events occur is not what it used to be. All storms, without exception, are different. Even if most of them look just like the ones we used to have, they are not the same.”
As keen observers have noted for years, attributing extreme weather events to climate is the easy part. Trenberth and his team say it’s time to start analyzing events from the assumption that climate change does influence all weather systems—and focus instead on how it influences them.
Trenberth explained to the Washington Post on Monday that “the attribution community has been very conservative, they always start from scratch, from a null hypothesis that there’s no influence of humans. Yet we’ve proved over and over that there is, so why do we do it that way?”
The key is understanding the difference between atmospheric dynamics and thermodynamics when it comes to weather patterns.
“Because global warming is real and present, it is not a question as to whether it is playing a role but what that role is.”
As the Post explained: