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Smoking Causes Cancer. Carbon Pollution Causes Extreme Weather.

Dan Lashof

Posted July 12, 2012 in Solving Global Warming

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Smoking Causes Cancer. Carbon Pollution Causes Extreme Weather.

It really doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

Surgeon_General's_warning_cigarettes.jpg

We dump billions of tons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere each year. As a result, the concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by 40%. Excess carbon dioxide traps excess heat in the atmosphere. Excess heat causes extreme heat waves, droughts, and storms.

And that’s what we have been seeing. In June alone, 170 all-time high temperature records were broken or tied in the United States, and more than 24,000 daily high temperature records have been broke so far this year. If the climate weren’t changing, we would expect to see about the same number of record highs and record lows set each year due to random fluctuations. That’s what we were seeing fifty years ago, but during the last decade there were twice as many record highs as record lows. So far this year the ratio has been 10 to 1.

This year’s extreme weather follows last year’s. The last twelve months were the hottest on record for the United States. Texas saw its hottest and driest summer on record in 2011 by a wide margin, and research published this week shows that carbon pollution dramatically increased the probability of such extreme heat and drought.

Faced with similar information about the carcinogens in cigarette smoke, the mechanism by which these carcinogens cause genetic mutations, and the statistical relationship between smoking and cancer, the Surgeon General says that smoking causes cancer. Of course that doesn’t mean that every individual case of cancer experienced by a smoker can be definitively attributed to smoking. But the Surgeon General does not feel compelled to say that every time she says that smoking causes cancer. And journalists don’t feel compelled to include that caveat every time they write an article about the health toll of smoking.

The Surgeon General’s warning hasn’t always been this clear. In 1966, when cigarette packages were first required to carry a warning, the package said “Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health.” A few years ago a similarly tepid warning may have been appropriate for carbon pollution. Not anymore.

The data are in. It’s time for scientists and journalists to just say it: Carbon pollution causes extreme weather.

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Comments

Stan ScobieJul 13 2012 10:10 AM

I think that most authorities are using the term CO2e, recognizing the important GHG contributions of other substances, e.g., methane.

I think it would be helpful to the many readers of NRDC blogs, policy makers, other decision makers, etc. for NRDC to also recognize clearly that, while extremely important, it is not just carbon.

This would also bring NRDC into better consistency with the important decision of Sierra Club to recognize the macro issue with their "Beyond Natural Gas" initiative.

And, to be clear, as EPA is beginning to recognize clearly that methane (natural gas) is both a powerful and important GHG and climate forcing agent, the now well known rather large leakages/fugitive emissions from natural gas production and distribution are being recognized increasingly as very troublesome and possibly fatal to efforts at controlling or limiting accelerating global warming.

Stan Scobie, Binghamton, NY

Frank KnittiJul 13 2012 01:11 PM

On a logarythmic scale a 280 to 400 PPM increase in CO2 is a 51.5% increase, thus more than 1/2 way towards the doubling of CO2 which the IPCC claims should cause a 3.2 degrees C average increase in temperature. Why did we not see a 1.6 degreeC temperature rise with a 51.5% increase in CO2 and why is the rate of warming decaying over the last 15 years of satellite data? What about the massive amounts of aerosols from Asian countries? What about all the new proxy reconstructions indicating more extreme weather and hotter global temperatures in the recent past when CO2 was below 300 PPM.

Limiting your argument to a small % of the planet for a short timeframe of a few days or months is meaningless. Even Michael Tobis at Planet 3.0 points out that June 2012 was only the 14 warmest June on record. The long term trend of interglacial warming has seen a constant rise with no acceleration and climate models that predicted accelerating warming are diverging from satellite data. Focusing on a few leaves in one tree while ignoring the forest is not scientifically convincing IMO. Trying to frighten people by inane associations between weather and cancer seems like a losing strategy as this has failed to garner changes in opinion in the past.

Daniel CoffeyJul 14 2012 01:55 PM

The author, Dan Lashof, states: "We dump billions of tons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere each year. As a result, the concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by 40%. Excess carbon dioxide traps excess heat in the atmosphere. Excess heat causes extreme heat waves, droughts, and storms."

For a number of reasons, this is a very poor description of the reality of global warming, though principally because it ignores the reality that most of the net energy accumulation is occurring in the oceans and ice, not the atmosphere. By focusing on the atmosphere, as many do, the real but mostly hidden scale of energy accumulation into the environment is obscured.

It is not clear if this is occurring because the author does not recognize the reality or if the audience has not been properly prepared, but this shortfall makes for a very misleading impression on the part of any reader who takes the description seriously.

Global warming is a rate of net energy accumulation, not merely a static condition related to a greenhouse gas concentration. This reality is extremely important, but is almost entirely overlooked and poorly explained.

That should change.

John MasheyJul 14 2012 07:40 PM

Actually, besides staying in business by killing children slowly, tobacco companies contribute directly (modestly) o global warming:

1) Trees are cut down to create farmland for tobacco.
2) Trees are cut to be burned to cure the tobacco.
3) Energy is used to manufacture and distribute cigarettes.
4) And then filters are waste.
5) And some fires are caused by them.

See Golden Holocaust, for example.

Of course, tobacco built the anti-science machinery inherited by climate anti-science, as in this
That's indirect, but likely worse.

Renee MylesJul 14 2012 09:36 PM

Frank what planet are you from? According to the IPCC 2007 report, global average temperature had risen on average 1.3 degrees C, that was 5 years ago so its likely to be higher than that now. Figures differ slightly between IPCC/NASA and other estimates but they are all in agreeance that the decade 2000-2009 have been the warmest on record. When will all the deniers wake up and smell the coffee!? This is not some sort of "normal variation", normal variations have been factored in by the thousands of scientists who have spent their lives studying climate to bring us these figures. The egos on people with no climate science credentials who feel they can dismiss the evidence because they're uncomfortable with the findings is staggering - and frightening. The Author has not linked global warming to cancer, he is merely using an analogy. There was once a time when people denied any link between smoking and cancer, we woke up to that, just like we need to wake up to the fact that global warming is happening and it is linked to severe weather events. All the deniers do us a favour and go and read widely on this topic, not just some random website, I spent the last 12 months reading published scientific data, the deniers don't have a leg to stand on.

BSJul 15 2012 10:37 AM

Regarding Renee's comment that, "According to the IPCC 2007 report, global average temperature had risen on average 1.3 degrees C, that was 5 years ago so its likely to be higher than that now."

No, Renee. It's actually not higher than that now. The first half of 2012 has actually been 0.09degC cooler than 2007. So that would bring us back down to +1.2degC.

BSJul 15 2012 10:41 AM

"For a number of reasons, this is a very poor description of the reality of global warming, though principally because it ignores the reality that most of the net energy accumulation is occurring in the oceans and ice"

Except at a narrow temerature range slightly above the freezing point, water expands as it warms (and water warms as it accumulates energy). Since global temperatures have been steady for nearly 12 years, this must mean that all the energy accumulation has gone into the oceans (and to some extent, to melting ice).

So given that the oceans are supposedly absorbing so much of this extra energy, why has the rate of sea level rise not increased?

Frank KnittiJul 15 2012 03:59 PM

@Renee Myles - The IPCC models are based on the HadCRUT3V data set and that data indicates that the 1850 to 2012 temperature increase has been 0.7 degreesC with a CO2 levels starting at 280 PPM in 1850. Here is the data. I'm have no idea where you got 1.3 degreesC but it is wrong.

http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/temperature/hadcrut3vgl.txt

If you are reading studies as you say you are, you must know about the missing heat in the modelled radiation budget for the Earth that was recently confirmed in the latest ocean heat data provided by Levitus etal.
http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/pip/2012GL051106.shtml

If you unaware of the problem let me know and I can provide several studies including one from James Hansen that addresses the missing heat problem. Yo might also want to look into the ARGO data as the problem is also evident there too (Hansen used ARGO to learn that his warming calculations were wrong).

Don HarrisJul 15 2012 07:21 PM

@ Renee Myles: the planet they think they inhabit is an illusory one with no limits to growth. They are big Carbon's (reactionary, harming and negatively impacting the biosphere) billionaires and beneficiaries ages 7-97.

Delia StclaireJul 19 2012 09:54 PM

I feel this is the most important topic that must be covered and conveyed to all! Without our planet, what else really matters? Putting this out here for all of us to see, will cause a wake upcall and with the wake up call, we must work together as one unit to stop our planet from burning up in the next 16 years. What about our children and their futures? This is their world too, and we need to give a darn! Please, whoever sees this website at 350.org, start caring about our planet. Why do billions and billions of dollars matter to the utmost polluters when they too will no longer have a planet or a planet for their children. We are all in this together, wake up and do your part!!!

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