I’ve just listened to that Jeffrey Sachs, the international economist, giving the 2007 Reith Lecture called “Bursting At The Seams”. I was only half listening but woke up when he said:
Now like the ozone crisis, public awareness has been the second step. For a long time climate change was discussed as something for the far future. Now it’s understood as something that imperils us today as well. The heatwave in Europe in 2003, claiming more than twenty thousand lives; Hurricane Katrina, a storm of devastating proportions, shocking the American people and the world about what climate can do; the mega-drought in Australia that took place this year, and destroyed a substantial part of Australia’s export crop; the massive typhoons being experienced by this country, as well as the warming taking place in large parts of this country, and severe droughts in the interior of China – have all made climate change an immediate issue, an understandable issue, and one that of course will get worse, no matter what we do right now, for a while, because we are on a trajectory of worsening climate change stresses that is locked in place for the near term.
What? I thought. 2003 is at best increased as a risk by GW. Katrina was not a huge storm; it was only its track that was dangerous. Australia hasn’t got a mega-drought, only a 10-15% reduction in rainfall. Is there really evidence of increased typhoons over China?
So I’m not convinced by his science (and I think he gets his ozone history wrong too).
[Update: I got lots of complaints about this post, mostly about the Australian drought. While I don't doubt its having severe effects on agriculture and people, I'm still not convinced its a "mega-drought". For one thing I don't know what a mega-drought is supposed to be, and I suspect a 15% reduction in ppn isn't enough. For Katrina, I'm using the RC take on it -W]
[From the comments: The drought here has been absolutely instrumental in changing public opinion on climate change, even though there is a good case (in this particular instance) for saying it is natural variability more than climate change. I fear this is all too likely to be true. I don't think it is good; and it is very vulnerable - what happens when it starts raining again? -W]
[Another comment, almost the same as above but differently framed perhaps: The experience of 2003 brought home to many people how seriously weather upheavals can disrupt their lives, even if they don't live in an area directly affected. And if that makes them look more closely at the impact of global climate change on humanity as a whole, I'm all in favor of it. This one I definitely agree with: ie, rather than focus on the-drought-is-climate-change, focus on weather-can-impact-our-lives -W]