A future of extremes?

by Aaron Gray-Block

January 16, 2013

The world’s journalists have been jostling and vying with each other to describe and witness the stunning, but also deadly, extreme weather that has gripped the planet in recent months.

The focus has often been the tumbling of records: 2012 was the hottest year on record in the United States, the UK had its second wettest year on record and Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology added extra colour to its temperature maps.

This caused quite a stir and rightly so. In fact, it’s about time.The U.N.’s climate panel, IPCC, has been fairly consistent since 1990 in describing the cause and risk of climate change and the need to respond. The scientific evidence since then, however, has often been shouted down by climate deniers.

But the record-breaking heatwave that has sparked Australia’s bushfires should be seen as part of a global warming trend, IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri stresses.


Last week, the New York Times linked that trend together, suggesting that “around the world, extreme has become the new commonplace.”

It pointed to Russia, which is enduring its harshest winter in more than 70 years, with temperatures plunging as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius, killing dozens of people. In fact, it’s even cold enough to freeze boiling water instantly.

China is shivering through its coldest winter in three decades and unusually cold temperatures have hit the Middle East and India, where the capital Delhi experienced its coldest day for 44 years this month.

Extreme weather is now a trending topic. Just take a look at Mashable’s 10 pics of extreme weather around the world.

If we needed more evidence, a draft of the third National Climate Assessment report in the U.S. said the impacts of climate change will intensify in coming decades.

Although it’s not possible to attribute every extreme weather event to climate change, climate scientists warn that extremes of drought, floods and superstorms will become more frequent due to global warming.

The consequences for failing to see the signs are deadly serious: ‘superstorm’ Sandy crashed into the Caribbean and the East Coast of the U.S. last year, causing massive power outages, flooding and destroying houses.

During the U.N. climate talks in Doha, Typhoon Bopha killed hundreds and left thousands of people homeless in the Philippines, bringing the country’s climate change commissioner to tears.

There are some positive signs though.

China, currently the world’s biggest consumer of climate-destroying coal, has surged ahead of the U.S. to regain its title as the world’s biggest investor in renewable energy, the Financial Times reports.

Bloomberg also quotes the Globe International alliance of lawmakers saying that China, Mexico and other emerging economies are leading the fight against climate change by passing laws to cut carbon and raise energy efficiency.

Meanwhile, a blog in the Guardian asks whether climate hawk John Kerry, as U.S. Secretary of State, could finally seal a climate change deal?

And in Australia, the record heatwave prompted Prime Minister Julia Gillard to publicly recognise the link to climate change.

Greenpeace joined with 14 prominent Australians, scientists and academics, and over 40 community groups,calling on Australia to cease the expansion of the country’s coal exports.

And there is an alternative: Greenpeace’s Energy Revolution charts a pathway of change to protect the climate through investment in renewable energy.

But we are swiftly approaching the global climate’s point of no return beyond that and the extreme weather we are witnessing now will be an everyday occurrence.

Governments need to do more than recognise climate change is taking place they need to match those words with action.

By Aaron Gray-Block

Aaron Gray-Block is a crisis response campaigner with Greenpeace International.

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