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Climate change behind extreme weather, says NASA

'Virtually no other explanation' for heatwaves and temperature rises

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James Hansen, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has written a Washington Post op-ed in which he discusses a new climate study he says recent heat waves have “... virtually no explanation other than climate change”

The study will be published on Monday, US time, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the Washington Post piece Hansen mentions Europe's 2003 heat wave, Russia's sweltering 2010 and droughts in the USA. All, he writes “ … are not simply an example of what climate change could bring.” Hansen then offers this explanation for the extreme heat events:

“They are caused by climate change. The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills.”

Speaking of bills, Hansen says the bottom line from Texas' drought was US$5bn, while 50,000 died in Europe's heat wave.

The op-ed is careful to point out that “Even with climate change, you will occasionally see cooler-than-normal summers or a typically cold winter” but adds that those natural extremes are getting more … erm … extreme.

“When we plotted the world’s changing temperatures on a bell curve, the extremes of unusually cool and, even more, the extremes of unusually hot are being altered so they are becoming both more common and more severe.

Hansen says we can still avoid the nastier consequences of a warming world, and writes:

“There is still time to act and avoid a worsening climate, but we are wasting precious time. We can solve the challenge of climate change with a gradually rising fee on carbon collected from fossil-fuel companies, with 100 percent of the money rebated to all legal residents on a per capita basis. This would stimulate innovations and create a robust clean-energy economy with millions of new jobs. It is a simple, honest and effective solution.”

Hansen also says in the piece that his previous predictions on climate change were “too optimistic” and that the world is getting hotter, faster. ®

Bootnote

In Australia, from where your correspondent types this missive, a carbon tax along the lines proposed by Hansen has proved extraordinary potent political poison. The government that introduced it has seen its popular support fall to 30% of the vote, partly because it promised to introduce no such tax before the last election and also in part because the opposition has decried it as a “great big new tax on everything”.

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