Extreme weather just might encourage us to get our act together on global warming

May 9, 2017 by Matthew Adams, The Conversation
Credit: Vasin Lee / Shutterstock.com

Much has been written about our incredible psychological ability to ignore or gloss over the threat of climate change. According to Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO, "the gap between what we know about the interconnectedness and fragility of our planetary system and what we are actually doing about it is alarming. And it is deepening". This gap between knowing and doing can be explained, in part, by our tendency to reach for defence mechanisms in response to the realities of climate change.

We deny the reality of change, minimise its implications or our responsibility for it, or project the consequences onto far off places or into the future. Such processes can occur in individual thinking; and they can appear in conversation, groups and wider societies as deliberate but unspoken "agreements" not to talk about in polite conversation. These denial tendencies are supported on an even larger scale in society and culture, as climate change is routinely absented or minimised as an issue – in media, government policy or advertising for example.

Meanwhile, the climate crisis deepens. Across the planet, climate change is increasing the likelihood of extreme weather. To be defined as "extreme", a weather event must be significantly divergent from normal patterns, with accompanying severe impacts, and be historically infrequent (about once every hundred years). They include floods, droughts, wildfires and heatwaves. Such "" are predicted to increase in the future as global warming increases.

It is commonly argued that one reason climate change doesn't have enough psychological or social traction is because it is perceived as distant – in time and space. And so some commentators, including former NASA scientist James Hansen, have predicted that this kind of direct experience of the manifestations of climate science predictions will increasingly bring the reality of climate change home, breaking through established defences, and finally closing the gap between knowing and doing.

Fossil fuel weather

Is this likely? Perhaps surprisingly, research suggests that in the wake of experiencing extreme weather, people may not consider climate change any more of a threat. For example, while the severe floods in the south-east of England in the winter of 2013-14 were exactly the kind of event predicted by climate scientists for a number of years, those directly experiencing them were found to be "no more knowledgeable, concerned or active in relation to climate change than people without flooding experience".

Why might this be the case? The cause of such incidents involves an array of factors, and separating out human influence and natural variability in systems is challenging. This is why scientists, cautious by profession, talk of climate change "increasing the odds" of in general, but rarely weigh in on arguments about specific events. Considering our psychological and social tendency not to attribute worrying events to human-made climate change, the potential power of direct experience to "open our eyes" to climate change is scuppered by the apparent uncertainty in connecting specific events to climate change.

But what if could be attributed to human-induced climate change with confidence? The emerging area of "extreme event attribution" allows us to pose such a question. New research by Noah Diffenbaugh and colleagues at Stanford University is the most ambitious contribution to this field to date. They devise a thorough set of measurements and demand a high burden of proof in quantifying the influence of global warming on unprecedented .

For one of their case studies, the summer decline of Arctic sea ice, overwhelming statistical evidence meant the significant contribution of climate change was "virtually certain". More generally, has increased the likelihood of the hottest events over more than 80% of the surface area of the Earth.

Triggering action

Diffenbaugh and colleagues refer to the important implications of their research "for and mitigation efforts", imagined as top-down interventions such as disaster risk management systems. But what interests me are the implications for behavioural and social change, particularly of the potential for extreme event attribution to motivate bottom-up activism and broader engagement with climate change as an urgent issue. Would we be more willing to change our behaviour, get together, act up accordingly, if we had direct experience of an extreme event that is confidently attributed to climate change?

It is certainly tempting to think that combined with direct experience of extreme , clearer attribution would be a powerful push factor. But developments in the psychology of defence mechanisms suggest that when we start to feel that threatening situations are getting closer, our defences become more pronounced and manic. We might increase our antagonism for individuals or groups who are bringing the problem to our attention or managing the fallout from extreme events; or uncritically idealise leaders who assert denial (any examples spring to mind?). We might even go overboard in pursuing and cheerleading behaviours deemed environmentally damaging, to reassure ourselves and others that we have nothing to worry about (remember the Republican campaign slogan "Drill, baby, drill"?). This makes sense – we need to work harder, individually and collectively, to deny the reality of climate change when it starts to feel more real.

Despite my reservations, we just can't be sure what the effects of being able to attribute to change might be. It is still possible that with a stronger causal narrative, immediate and direct experience of unlocks the motivation of individuals and communities in ways we have witnessed in other areas of environmental campaigning. Firsthand experience of this kind just might puncture the individual defence mechanisms and socially generated silences that maintain the gap between what we know about , and what we are doing about it.

Explore further: Better information needed to understand extreme weather

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rderkis
1 / 5 (1) May 09, 2017
How about we really do somthing to fight climate change? Support fusion CONSTRUCTION. We have the technology. We have the engineering. MIT now just needs the money for SPARC and ARC construction. And we are not talking about billions like most the others.
The breakthrough technology that makes it possible is called RIBCO.
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) May 09, 2017
Support fusion CONSTRUCTION. We have the technology.

Erm - no we don't. Not yet.

Even if we did: It would take a LOT more money and effort to build enough fusion powerplants to make a dent in energy production compared to what we can achieve with solar and wind for the same price.

And remember that fusion does still use the carnot/steam cycle to produce electricity (i.e. that for every 1 GW produced about 2 GW of waste heat and water vapor - a greenhouse gas - are expelled into the environment)

Wind and solar do not produce water vapor so are far preferrable in that regard (they do require storage on the other hand). Notice that nuclear powerplants have to shut down in summer when water levels in rivers they draw cooling water from are low or the rivers get too warm and would kill off all life if the hot wastewater were to be continued to be fed into them. This would be an issue for fusion powerplants as well.
rderkis
1 / 5 (2) May 09, 2017
Sorry I have muted you antialias_physorgnot. I am sure you disagree with what pretty much every expert on the subject of energy says,, since you are smarter and better educated than all of them.
Fusion is the future and it can be here now. ARC is small enough they can be built cheaply and everywhere including 3rd world countries. Plus there are no toxic batteries to cause long term pollution.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (5) May 09, 2017
The fact is, actual action on accelerated climate change involves admitting that it's chemtrails, not "fossil fuels", that are causing it. Chemtrails is the doping of the air with weather modification chemicals. They are not contrails. Contrails dissipate quickly, chemtrails can last for an hour or more. They began around 1950. they were invisible then but caused things like the number of tornadoes per year going from a nearly constant 180 to seven or right times that number now. They became visible in 1997 when the atmosphere appeared to have become saturated. 1997 is also the year the drum beat of massive manifestations associated with climate change began, from the worst hurricane season, to hundred degree heat waves from London to Siberia, to the disappearance of Arctic sea ice, to the formation of the new cloud species undulatus asperatus. Important, too, is recognizing that, despite the lies, "alternative energy" systems harm the environment.
rderkis
1 / 5 (2) May 09, 2017
The fact is, actual action on accelerated climate change involves admitting that it's chemtrails, not "fossil fuels", that are causing it.


Wow, here is a revolutionary thought! Perhaps like 99.9% of all problems it is a combination of things. :-)
Naw, no way, climate change is caused by rotting pumpkin seeds.
MR166
3 / 5 (4) May 09, 2017
Extreme weather is a much more useful term than global warming and climate change since it does not need to be verified by actual numbers. I can just walk out my door and be thoroughly frightened by my own perceptions.
MR166
3 / 5 (4) May 09, 2017
Also it does not matter if it is extremely dry, wet, windy,calm,hot or cold. The pending Armageddon is all due to man's use of fossil fuel. Yes, extreme is an excellent choice of words.
rderkis
2.3 / 5 (3) May 09, 2017
The pending Armageddon


Woo, that's so scary! Of course the word pending is so arbitrary. Why do I care if it happens in 5,000,000 years time? Compared to the age of the universe, that time frame is certainly pending.
MR166
2.3 / 5 (3) May 09, 2017
RD pending Armageddon was a little sarcasm.
Zzzzzzzz
4.2 / 5 (5) May 09, 2017
If a person denies climate change due to his/her delusions, logic and reason won't have any impact whatsoever. The delusional psychotic will prioritize the search for validation higher than actions required for physical survival.
Non delusion associated denial of climate change may be theoretically possible, but has not yet been observed in the natural world.
greenonions1
4 / 5 (4) May 09, 2017
We definitely should investigate all options - including cold fusion, fusion, thorium, etc. But as Antialias points out - these technologies are for the future - if ever. Renewables are proven - and here today. This is why we are pushing hard into renewables - and the tipping point is just around the corner. Whatever your view regarding climate change - what is not to like about cheap, non polluting, locally generated, wind and solar?
MR166
3 / 5 (2) May 09, 2017
" what is not to like about cheap, non polluting, locally generated, wind and solar?"

I am all for research into non-fossil energy sources and LIMITED deployment of the prototype systems developed. These are ALL prototypes by the way since most cannot support themselves in their present form without heavy subsides. Now if a cost effective energy storage system were to be developed we could move out of the prototype stage.
MR166
2 / 5 (4) May 09, 2017
Using fear of human induced climate change as a tool to promote these flawed systems is a big mistake and severely diminishes the credibility of science. I now trust some sciences as much as I trust big pharma pushing Statins as a method to prevent heart disease.

Both are justified by fudged data and biased research papers.
rderkis
3 / 5 (2) May 09, 2017
Why is it 99% of the comments on here are posted by conspiracy theorists(the government and martians are out to get us), Doomsayers(THE SKY IS FALLING), snobs (I am way more educated than anyone and smarter to) or just plain trolls (Your as dumb as a bag of rocks and smell bad to!)?
Oh, and the science worshipers who decide what is science and what is not.
greenonions1
3.7 / 5 (3) May 09, 2017
MR
These are ALL prototypes by the way since most cannot support themselves in their present form without heavy subsides.
No they are not all prototypes. We are in the early stages of the transition to renewables. Some countries are further along than others. Check out Portugal, Denmark, Scotland, Germany etc. The transition has begun - but we have a long long way to go. Renewables are as cheap as fossil fuels now MR - just saying 'it aint so' does not make you right. One example of many - http://renewecono...s-95476/
rderkis
3 / 5 (2) May 09, 2017
These are ALL prototypes by the way


I just watched a Ted talks video by Kerzwel? Old and can't remember if it was Kerzel or Musk.
It stated that solar has been doubling every 2 years and is ~2% now. And in 6 or 7 more doublings it will be at 100%.
Personally, I think it will go faster than that because a terrific amount of research is going into making it more efficient and cheaper. Wes see that in these articles.
But even with solar approaching 100%, fusion will be the wave of the future. I guess that makes no sense see if you can figure out why,.?? :-)
MR166
3 / 5 (2) May 10, 2017
IMHO, until we can store energy at a reasonable cost solar cannot replace fossil. Fossil backup will still need to be running 24/7.
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) May 10, 2017
These are ALL prototypes by the way since most cannot support themselves in their present form without heavy subsides.

And yet the first off-shore windfarms are starting to be built without subsidies (notice: off-shore. Which is more expensive than on-shore)
https://www.nytim...tml?_r=0
(Note that coal in germany - after more than 100 years usage - is still not able to survive without subisides)

As for fusion and the various types of prototype fission (thorium et al): There is a timeline for a changeover. Some nations are aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050. There's no way a complex generation technology that isn't even past early prototyping will make a considerable impact by then. The planning and build time of reactors for these types - when they exit prototype stage - is a decade or more. Each. By that time renewables have long done the job.
greenonions1
5 / 5 (3) May 10, 2017
MR
IMHO, until we can store energy at a reasonable cost solar cannot replace fossil. Fossil backup will still need to be running 24/7.


And the day when we have reasonable cost storage is much closer than you think. Here is an example of renewables plus storage being cheaper than gas peaking plants. http://renewecono...s-95476/ So we are already at a point where solar plus storage can replace fossil fuels. Not 100 percent - but Rome was not built in a day. This report projects that total renewable systems will be cheaper than gas within 13 years. The costs just keep falling MR - you are really stuck in the past.
MR166
1 / 5 (1) May 11, 2017
Onions I quickly read the link and the govt. request for ideas. It has not even been determined what type of battery will be used. There was a line where the government said that this is already being done in private homes which leads me to believe that there are no breakthroughs and costs will be very high. My gut feeling is that most existing battery systems will be too costly and have too short a lifespan. Also, when you store a lot of energy in a very small area a failure is catastrophic. I feel that some sort of flow battery will be the answer. That way the energy is stored in 2 separate tanks and the battery is just the reaction vessel.

You have to understand that the US is pretty much on the verge of bankruptcy and hyperinflation. The national debt has been doubling every 8 years and our currency and land is only valuable because the rest of the world is so unstable. We quickly need to become cost effective in every possible area of government.
MR166
1 / 5 (2) May 11, 2017
BTW southern Australia is having a lot of electrical supply issues due to over reliance on renewables.
MR166
1 / 5 (2) May 11, 2017
Until renewables are able to supply power 24/7 the US would, if it had any brains at all, generate as much electricity as possible from coal. It would save nat gas and oil for the more valuable applications where electric power is not suitable.
greenonions1
5 / 5 (1) May 11, 2017
BTW southern Australia is having a lot of electrical supply issues due to over reliance on renewables.


By the way - no - that is not true

http://www.climat...ackouts/

AGL says the economics of gas-fired generation don't stack up, because wind and solar and storage are cheaper


http://renewecono...a-85967/
MR166
May 11, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
MR166
not rated yet May 11, 2017
Onions if they really can create a battery backup system for $300K/MWH as stated, that works out to about $.007 /KWH over it's lifetime. This is a VERY reasonable cost and would tip the scales towards renewables. Here's hoping that they can do this and that there is enough lithium in the world to feed the demand.
greenonions1
5 / 5 (1) May 11, 2017
MR - we are already below $300K/MWH - and prices have come down around 80% in the past 6 years - so it is a good bet that they will keep going down. https://electrek....-190kwh/

Tesla announced this week that they have made a pretty significant improvement in their battery chemistry - meaning that after 1200 cycles - they will still be at 95%. We are just watching the drip drip of progress. https://electrek....ifcycle/
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (2) May 11, 2017
BTW, worth mentioning that the whole "bird chopping" thing is FUD. This is a story fossil fuel freaks made up about 10 years ago because they're afraid of wind power. Go looking for statistics and you'll find they're in the one-bird-per-turbine-per-decade range.

It's another renewable power troll lie. Challenge proponents for statistics and when they try to lie, move on.
MR166
not rated yet May 11, 2017
Well if battery storage is cheap enough then there should be a bunch of small startup companies buying power during off peak hours and reselling it at peak. We could then close down a lot of the standby generators. Also the cost of standby power should come down a lot because load management would be a LOT easier and the lead times a lot longer.
rderkis
5 / 5 (2) May 11, 2017
We are just watching the drip drip of progress.


Any more it is not a drip drip it is more like a slight stream, soon to be torrent!

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