THE MAN-MADE increase of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere cannot be definitively blamed for any one incident of extreme weather. And no single cause can be assigned to the current forest fires around Moscow, the floods in Pakistan, or the mudslides in China.
Still, this summer’s desolating scenes of death and devastation from heat waves, fires, and floods may be taken as a forewarning of what awaits the planet if nothing is done soon to reduce man’s contribution to climate change.
Fluctuations in El Niño wind currents over the Pacific may be a more immediate cause of extreme monsoon rains in parts of Asia than the burning of fossil fuels. In Russia, Pakistan, and China, economic rapacity, corruption, and government incompetence allowed abnormal weather patterns to inflict more suffering than they otherwise would have caused.
Nonetheless, it would be folly to ignore the climate-change backdrop to this summer’s separate and unique catastrophes. Russian medical specialists are finding a year-by-year increase in cases of malaria in increasingly warm regions where the disease had previously been unknown.
Similarly, warmer weather is bringing more and more ticks carrying encephalitis to Russia. Around the world, there has been a three-fold increase in extreme weather events over the last three decades, according to a database kept by the reinsurance company Munich Re, which has an economic stake in calibrating accurately the effects of climate change.
Political leaders in this country and the rest of the world ought to reflect on the scale of human suffering this summer in Pakistan, Russia, and China. If they could envision these catastrophes not as aberrations but as the coming state of things, maybe they would act now, in concert, to stop turning the earth into an inferno for their descendants.