Washington • Look at the non-political news these days: Deadly wildfires burn out of control in parched California. Unusually heavy rains cause devastating floods in parts of Asia. A punishing heat wave kills scores in Japan, South Korea and normally temperate parts of Europe, pushing temperatures into the 90s in Scandinavia. Can anyone fail to see a pattern?
With increasing confidence — and growing alarm — some leading climate scientists attribute this summer's bizarre weather to human-induced global warming. Meanwhile, the Trump administration wants to make it all worse.
This week we saw a juxtaposition of events that you couldn't make up. On Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that 2017 was the second- or third-warmest year on record, depending on which data set is used, trailing only 2016 and perhaps 2015. The very next day, like some cat-stroking Bond villain, President Trump had his environmental vandals propose rolling back automotive fuel-efficiency standards, which would neuter one of the nation's most effective means of mitigating climate change.
Court battles will ensue, and it is not clear that the Trumpists will prevail. But there can be no doubt that this president, one way or another, is determined to spew as much heat-trapping carbon into the atmosphere as is humanly possible. If you care about your children's and grandchildren's future, you'd better pay attention.
It bears repeating that the question of human-induced climate change has long been answered. By burning fossil fuels on an industrial scale, we have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide by more than 40 percent. Sixteen of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred since the turn of the 21st century, with 2014, 2015 and 2016 successively setting new all-time records. And 2017 came close despite a La Nina weather phenomenon that should have relegated it well down the list.
At least the deniers and charlatans who once claimed we were experiencing some sort of "pause" in global warming have had to shut up. But there is small consolation in being right.
You can choose what to worry about. Sea level rise — warmer water takes up more space than cooler water — threatens coastal cities around the globe. Arctic ice is melting, while Antarctic ice threatens to slide off the continent. Both the terrestrial and marine biospheres are being altered rapidly and perhaps catastrophically. The rapid thawing of permafrost soils in Siberia, Canada and Alaska could release vast amounts of methane, which traps more heat than carbon and would accelerate the warming process.
At the moment, you might be more inclined to worry about the weather, which has been weird — and, in many places, brutal. Climate scientists have always been careful to say that no one weather event can be definitively blamed on climate change; after all, there were hurricanes and heat waves long before the Industrial Revolution. But now, with more data and better climate models at their disposal, some researchers are beginning to calculate the extent to which global warming is making freakish weather events more common and more intense.
An international collaborative effort called World Weather Attribution — involving Oxford University in Britain, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, the French Laboratoire des Sciences du Climate et de l'Environment, the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, Princeton University and the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research — was established in 2014 to make "the emerging science of extreme event attribution" into a useful tool.
The WWA consortium analyzed this year's blistering temperatures in northern Europe and came to the "confident" conclusion that such heat waves are now more than twice as likely in that region as they were before human activity altered the climate. By contrast, WWA looked at last month's torrential rain and flooding in Japan, which killed more than 200 people, and concluded that while climate change appears to have made such an event more probable, there is not enough data to make a formal statement of attribution.
This is how science advances — cautiously. It is our great misfortune to have a president who always lurches foolishly and recklessly, who does not believe in science, who wants to prop up the carbon-spewing coal industry while ceding leadership in clean-energy technologies to China and Europe — and who now wants to force California and other states to stop using gas-mileage standards as a tool in the climate battle.
As the nation’s biggest auto market, California is the tail that wags the dog — automakers comply with its rules. Gov. Jerry Brown said he will “fight this stupidity in every conceivable way possible.” Forgive him the redundancy, and pray for his success.
Eugene Robinson writes a twice-a-week column on politics and culture and hosts a weekly online chat with readers. In a three-decade career at The Washington Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper’s Style section. email@example.com