Political action seems again improbable, but it remains more urgent than ever
The Guardian Editorial
Tuesday 31 August 2010
None of these reports was directly about global warming. The first was a salutary reminder that infectious disease can hitch a plane ride anywhere. The mosquitoes were unlikely to survive a Dutch winter: the surprise was that tropical insects could flourish in a North Sea summer. The second confirms that although plants benefit from the longer growing season and the richer carbon dioxide supply implicit in a greenhouse world, the overall picture may still augur badly for world food supplies. And the third finding was part of a project to give students a taste of field research by measuring climate and glacial variations over time. What links all three is that the evidence is apolitical. Plants, insects and ice streams are mute, disinterested witnesses to a warming world.
Does it matter? The answer is, clearly, yes. Worldwide, June was the hottest June since records began; July was the second hottest ever recorded. Pakistan has just experienced both extreme heat and catastrophic floods; Russia has been scorched by heatwave and its forests incinerated. None of these events should be linked directly to global warming: they might well have happened anyway. However, both are consistent with predictions by the IPCC that in a warming world, extreme events may be more frequent, more intense. So the floods in Swat and the Indus valley are, like the yellow fever mosquitoes of the Netherlands, an indication that things could get worse.
Critics of climate research argue the data are incomplete, the climate modelling uncertain, the predictions inconclusive. But as we report today, that notable contrarian Bjørn Lomborg is now arguing that the threat is severe and demands action. Reminders of the reality of climate change are now reported almost every week. Political action – real, determined and concerted action – seems again improbable. But it also remains more urgent than ever.