For Severe Weather, 'Is This Climate Change?' Is the Wrong Question


How are steroids and baseball and speeding in a car similar to the effect that global warming has on our planet? Jeremy Deaton of Nexus Media discusses these anaologies with help from Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.

For the first five years of his career, Alex Rodriguez averaged 37 home runs a season. Then, he moved to the Texas Rangers, where his average swelled to 52 home runs a season. A-Rod's other statistics — runs batted in, slugging average — rose as well. It is difficult to account for the sudden surge in his output without the influence of performance-enhancing drugs, which is why few people batted an eye when Rodriguez admitted to using steroids during his time with the Rangers.

Scientists like to point to the use of steroids in baseball as a way to explain climate change. Each baseball A-Rod sent soaring over the back wall could be attributed to steroids, but many would have been home runs anyway. So it is with global warming. Weather happens, with or without human influence, but rising temperatures, record storms and historic flooding are difficult to explain without heat-trapping greenhouse gases — the steroids of the global climate system. 

Still, elegant analogies haven't stopped journalists from asking, "Is this climate change?" any time a hurricane makes landfall, much to the frustration of scientists. 

Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, says the question is "a straw man." "In any individual event, it's likely that climate change is acting in the background in one manner or another," he said. "I think the most egregious thing that the scientific community tends to push back on is the idea of whether or not this event wouldn't have happened at all without climate change" ...