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Scientists Report Human-Induced Climate Change Influences Extreme Weather Events. Now What?

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Last week, a new analysis of climate change and extreme weather was released in the peer-reviewed Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The study, entitled, “Explaining Extreme Events of 2012 from a Climate Perspective,” brought together 18 different research teams from around the world to consider 12 extreme weather events--such as heat waves, storms, and droughts--on five continents during 2012:

Approximately half the analyses found some evidence that anthropogenically caused climate change was a contributing factor to the extreme event examined, though the effects of natural fluctuations of weather and climate on the evolution of many of the extreme events played key roles as well.

The report demonstrates when and where human-induced climate change (translation: the burning of fossil fuels that creates heat-trapping gases) has contributed to specific extreme weather events. For example, the team found that the impacts from Hurricane Sandy (left) were exacerbated by sea level rise. They also concluded that the high temperatures here in the U.S. are now likely to occur more frequently. And that's just the beginning... I encourage readers to explore the full results in detail.

It's good to have this kind of new data in order to make a stronger case that we ought to do something. But that said, how many more analyses are required? How long will we spend valuable time, energy, and resources documenting climate change?

The science community already knows this is happening. We recognize that Earth is getting hotter in some places, wetter elsewhere, drier in dry regions, and stormier as well--in very vulnerable areas. Excess carbon is changing the atmosphere and oceans. Further, even if all emissions stopped today, we will continue to see the impacts of excess carbon in the environment for centuries.

The American public will continue to debate what causes climate change, but over two-thirds of us do acknowledge it's taking place. So sure, scientists will continue to predict and model the results--one report at a time. But I sincerely hope we shift our primary focus to mitigation and adaptation, because the world is changing and right now, we are largely unprepared.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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