The Sun had a striking front page yesterday: ‘the world’s on fire’ it said, noting that “scientists have warned that climate change is making such heat extremes more likely.”
As I mentioned last week, Britain’s tabloids may be coming round on climate change. It’s getting harder to ignore, and the Sun’s line on it is absolutely right.
It’s not really possible to say that any specific weather event is because of climate change. After all, the last heatwave like this in Britain was in 1976, when CO2 levels were lower. There are always multiple factors, including in this instance a weak jetstream and sea temperature cycles in the Atlantic.
But what we can always say is that climate change makes extreme weather events more likely, and it makes them more severe.
One way to imagine this is with dice. Let’s make it a 12-sided die, where anything over 10 is a really hot summer and a 12 is a heatwave. Now imagine that we rub off the numbers 1-12, and replace them with 2-13. We now have a higher chance of heat, and new extremes are now possible.
That’s what climate change basically does. We’re rubbing off the numbers and redrawing them, 3-14, 4-15, and so on. The longer we leave it, the higher the risk becomes.
It’s not a perfect analogy – the Met Office say there will always be a chance of freak cold winters in future, though the likelihood will drop away. But the chance of hot weather will increase, and the potential for new highs – like the ones we’re experiencing right now – will also rise.
And that’s the crazy thing about the Sun’s headline yesterday. These temperatures are making the news because they are exceptional. But if climate change continues unabated, then it won’t be newsworthy anymore. It’ll be normal.