Environment: Measuring human impact

By Frank Saverino
Columnist

A question has brought politically divided countries like ours to a standstill in efforts to raise environmental awareness and encourage eco-friendly practices: To what extent can we accurately measure the impact that humans have on extreme weather conditions and global climate change?

While it seems like the media will spin around this conundrum forever, some environmental scientists are battling this question head-on and developing new methods to analyze the impact human beings have on the environment. The goal is to be able to predict exactly how much our environmental footprint contributes to extreme weather patterns, events and disasters and inform climate change activists and skeptics alike.

A recent report from the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) noted that in 16 major weather events studied in 2013, human influence was clearly evident in exacerbating five violent heat waves experienced in countries like China, Japan and Australia. In developing climatic, geographic models and analyzing how anomalies attributable to human influence play into extreme weather, scientific reports by organizations like BAMS attempt to “foster the development of scientific methods that can be applied operationally to explain the underlying physical processes causing extreme events … and to place the event and associated processes in a historical context of climate variability and change.”

Meteorologists, journalists like those at Thomas Reuters Foundation and climate change activists from Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre will come together to find a “transparent and politically neutral” answer to whether we can attribute human influence to causing extreme weather events. They recognize the importance of this question, especially in the context of recovering the devastating impact that severe droughts, heat waves and rising ocean levels have caused within the past year. This is no climate change rally, though. There is evidence that anomalies attributable to human influence have affected sea ice levels and played a hand in heat waves across the globe. However, the reports also consider the natural variability in tracking and analyzing the causes of extreme weather via the models created by meteorologists. By recognizing variability, the scientists and activists hope to find clear, concise ways to measure and predict extreme weather in the context of a world governed by climate change.

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