Category Archives: Russian heat wave 2010

To attribute, or not to attribute: that is no longer the question

Things that scare me: redux

How many of readers recall early 2011 when cyclone Yasi struck Brisbane?

At least 35 people died in floods across New South Wales and Queensland. The resulting rains and floods costed the Australian economy approximately $10 billion.

Or the flooding suburbs in Melbourne, which I captured on video. So extreme were these events that it caused one member of the Bureau of Meteorology to exclaim: “We’ve never seen anything like it in Australia”

Perhaps you may recall early 2011 fires raged in Western Australia (Black Sunday), while Sydney experienced a record seven-day heat wave.

Across the globe soaring temperatures saw record rains flood two-thirds of Pakistan, while at the same time fires raged across Russia.

Or perhaps your memory goes back to the 2010 records floods in China killed close to 400 people, destroying 1.3 millions homes and caused $54USD billion in damage?

Perhaps some might remember the fires that ripped through Israel in an event called that nations worst natural disaster in history?

Of course there where the floods in Niger and the record rain in the US that saw Nashville inundated.

Indeed in September 2010 I wrote about the things that scared me about the coming Australian summer:

Thus with 2010 looking like being the hottest year record, I think we should be deeply concerned about the coming bushfire season.

As noted by the IPCC, with rising temperatures Australia could be subjected to more floods and catastrophic fires…I earnestly hope some advanced planning is taking place.

While let me reiterate my concerns for the coming Australian summer of 2012-13.

I’m not claiming any prescience, just noting the obvious fact an increase in CO2 that traps more heat, raises temperatures and fuels more extreme weather events.

It makes sense because the science is pretty fucking solid.

The attribution debate is over

Back in 2010 and early 2011 “sensible” voices cautioned about attributing these events to climate change.  This is the so called “attribution” question, and we’re cautioned to not make simple linkages between a flood here and climate change: fair enough.

I recall Michael Tobis writing for the now defunct “Only in it for the gold” asking that very question in 2010 reflecting on the Russian heat wave:

But right now I feel like hazarding a guess. As far as I understand, nothing like this has happened before in Moscow….

…The formerly remarkable heat wave of 2001, then, is “the sort of thing we’ll see more of” with global warming. But it may turn out reasonable, in the end, to say “the Russian heat wave of 2010 is the first disaster unequivocally attributable to anthropogenic climate change.”

Tentative, hedging and qualifying like a good scientist and commentator on this issue should.

Still the blogger Eli at Rabett Run said Michael was asking a “scary question”, noting sardonically:

As Dirty Harry would say, at some point the bunnies have to ask not if the dice are loaded, but if the 44 Magnum is.

Picture the clathrate gun hypothesis playing the role in Eli’s similes of bunnies playing with 44 Magnums. Go on click that link –but only if you’re prepared for the possibilities of loosing sleep.

On second thoughts, you will lose sleep.

So let me state this: it is now pointless wrangling over the question of whether or not to attribute individual events to climate change.

Reality makes that debate redundant.

We’re here: we’ve arrived at the point in history when our species has engineered a new climate. The point we knew was coming – that was inevitable – if we did nothing.  

Slouching towards the Anthropocene

Let’s recap the past few months shall we?

The North American heat wave with 40,000 temperature records broken; six million displaced in India due to monsoon rains, 150 dead in Russia as several months worth of rain falls in a matter of hours; Arctic and Greenland ice loss…

Need I go on?

It’s unfolding as if climate change was real… funny that huh?

I was going to muse on what this all means, but I’ve already did that in August 2010 in the post “Welcome to the Anthropocene”:

Being a blogger frees me from the usual reticence and qualified statements scientists usually (for good reason) make.

I may appear very foolish for saying this, but its time to call it: we’ve well and truly passed a threshold.

Call it climate change, or global warming. Or perhaps you could rename the planet as Bill McKibben suggests (Eaarth). Actually the name really doesn’t matter.

This is the new normal.

Even if we stopped all CO2 emissions tomorrow, there’s more than enough warming “in the pipe” for future “climate disruption”.

The Greenland ice sheet?

Most likely gone.

The Great Barrier Reef.

Most likely gone.

2010 is the year in which the climate news is getting worse: hottest year on record; the ocean’s phytoplankton dying off; the Russian heat wave; the floods in Pakistan (2).

Welcome to the anthropocene.

That’s the thing about the climate change debate. You end up saying the same thing over, and over again. Though who listens is another question…

Famously, one scientist called the climate an angry beast, and that our activities are provoking it. Permit me to run with that metaphor and repurpose the final lines of “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards the Bethlehem to be born?

And what a beast climate change is: slowly, almost methodically it slouches into perception and our lives.

There will come a time when all of us will be forced to stare into face of the beast, aghast and transfixed, like Saturn’s sons staring into the gaping maw of their father.

This is how it hits the fan: Michael Tobis on superfires and climate change attribution

Courtesy Planet 3.0

Michael Tobis over at Planet 3.0 has written a brilliant post on the spate of recent “heat” disasters we’ve witnessed these past few years. Michael and the guys over at Planet 3.0 are putting out some good content.

Go read, comment or debate:

In the last few years a phenomenon of intense and persistent medium-scale heat anomalies has clearly emerged. In the past decade, notable events have occurred centered in France, eastern Australia, central Russia and Texas. WHile most of these occur in summer, this spring we had an astonishing warm anomaly centered in WIsconsin and Minnesota.

It’s fair to say that this phenomenon was not clearly predicted in climate models. Consequently, it is fair to say that it is not fully understood, and whether it will remain a persistent feature of the climate is speculative. Strictly speaking, formal attribution will be difficult. But it being a global response, a global cause is to be sought and identification of a prime suspect doesn;t require much imagination. Global warming appears to be manifesting in large part as extreme regional anomalies, rather than as the gentle trend that some people are so eager to presume. And this leads, among other things, to stress on forests.

But, every forest that is with us is a forest on a crowded world. Few are in anything resembling a natural state. In particular, natural forests are susceptible to fires, fires which people living in forested regions are eager to suppress. Consequently, over trhe years, the combustible fuel in the forests (and to a lesser extent in grasslands) accumulates to an extent that would not occur in nature. Consequently, fires become hotter, larger, and more devastating when they do occur. This risk was well understood vefore anthropogenic climate change became a palpable part of our daily lives. The connection between the one and the other was not really considered.

Consequently, the extreme damage we saw in Moscow, in Bastrop Texas just a few months ago, and potentially in Colorado this week, was a Perrow-like interaction of two separate and disconnected unheeded warnings, just as the mortality from Katrina was.

The twenty years we have thrown away on the climate change issue since Rio has amounted to a wandering cosmic heat lamp, heating now one forest, now another, to the point of ignition. How much damage that ignition does comes down to local forest management practice. The building of wealthy suburbs in forested places like Boulder and Bastrop, with a strategy not of forest clearing but of fire suppression, has provided a great supply of tinder.


The pervasive nature of climate change exacerbates many other risks. Failure to account for those other risks occurs for similar reasons to the increasingly obvious failure to account for climate risks. Combined disasters combine worse than additively.

This is how it hits the fan.

2010 climate death toll hits 21,000 while coral reefs around the globe die

Nothing unusual at all...

Oxfam reports:

“A new Oxfam report “More than ever: climate talks that work for those that need them most”, says that 21,000 people died due to weather-related disasters in the first nine months of 2010 – more than twice the number for the whole of 2009. This year is on course to experience more extreme-weather events than the ten-year average of 770. It is one of the hottest years ever recorded with Pakistan logging 53.7°C – the highest ever in Asia.

Report author Tim Gore of Oxfam said: “This year has seen massive suffering and loss due to extreme weather disasters. This is likely to get worse as climate change tightens its grip. The human impacts of climate change in 2010 send a powerful reminder why progress in Cancun is more urgent than ever.”

While Hot Topic reports on the massive episodes of coral bleaching around the globe:

“The Telegraph article noted scientists in Thailand have reported reefs suffering 90% of their corals being bleached and up to 20% of the corals dead. Olivia Durkin, who is leading the bleaching monitoring at the Centre for Biodiversity in Peninsular Thailand, said: “This year’s severe coral bleaching has the potential to be the worst on record.”

In June The Maldives reported the most serious incidence of coral bleaching since the major 1998 El Niño-event that destroyed most of the country’s shallow reef coral. Since then there has been gradual reef recovery but the 2010 event will be at least a major setback…”

A 100km square kilometre iceblock breaks of Greenland.

A super storm, the likes rarely seen before hits the middle of the US (see image above).

The Amazon is experiencing a severe drought.

Record snow storms across Europe and the US, severe flooding in Poland (killing 12 people).

But of course, it’s all just a co-incidence. 

A climate tragedy: Russia’s death toll likely to exceed 15,000

What does a world with one degree of warming look like?  

Something like the unfolding tragedy in Russia.  

Buried within the middle pages of most newspapers you may have come across some scattered references to the Russian heat wave, forest fires and drought. It is a sad indictment of our media that what is perhaps one of the worst human tragedies of this year has barely received sporadic and insubstantial coverage.  

Russia: a climate tragedy  

Reports from Russia indicate that the death toll resulting from fires, accidents and from the heat itself will most likely exceed 15,000. Climate Progress reports:

“The heat wave began on June 27. These grim statistics suggest that in Moscow alone, the Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010 has likely killed at least 7,000 people so far. A plot of the departure of July 2010 temperatures from average (Figure 1) shows that the area of Russia experiencing incredible heat is vast, and that regions southeast of Moscow have the hottest, relative to average. Moscow is the largest city in Russia, with a population just over ten million, but there are several other major cities in the heat wave region. These include Saint Petersburg, Russia’s 2nd most populous city (4.6 million), and Nizhny Novgorod, Russia’s 5th most populous city (1.3 million people.) Thus, the Russian population affected by extreme heat is at least double the population of Moscow, and the death toll in Russia from the 2010 heat wave is probably at least 15,000, and may be much higher..”

As noted yesterday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has no qualms in laying the blame on global warming.

Grain harvest devastated, people flee Moscow and fires threaten nuclear facilities

The brief references in Western media due scant justice to the scale of the tragedy engulfing Russia.

Together they give some sense of the enormity of what is taking place…  

So bad are is the smoke from the fires that over 100,000 people have fled Moscow:

“A record number of passengers flew out of Moscow’s airports as residents scrambled to escape thick, acrid smoke from bushfires east of the capital that has doubled the death rate.

More than 104,400 people flew out of Moscow on Sunday, topping the previous record of 101,000, according to the Federal Air Transportation Agency.

The heatwave that has affected Moscow since June combined with smoke nearly doubled the city’s death rate to 700 a day from 360-380 in normal conditions, Interfax reported, citing Andrei Seltsovsky, head of the city’s public health department…”

Due to the heat and extreme drought conditions, there are fears Russia’s grain harvest could decline by 38%:

“Russia’s grain harvest in 2010 may total just 60 million metric tons, or 38% less than last year, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said at a government presidium meeting.

“According to the latest Agriculture Ministry forecasts, the harvest will be much more modest than we assumed at the beginning of the year. It could total 65 or even 60 million tons,” Putin said, adding that Russia’s domestic grain requirements for 2010 amounted to 78 million tons…”

The Russian’s may not starve, but as a consequence food prices across the globe will rise. The world’s poor will feel the impact directly, as many will struggle to feed themselves and their families.

Of concern, the fires are threatening nuclear facilities:

Emergency regulations over the threat of spreading wildfires were enforced late on Monday in the town of Ozersk in the Chelyabinsk region, where one of Russia’s largest nuclear-waste plants is located.

The Mayak plant, which makes tritium and radioisotopes from decommissioned weapons and waste from nuclear reactors, is about 80 kilometres (about 50 miles) from the town of Snezhinsk where a forest fire has recently threatened a major nuclear research center.

While more than 230,000 emergency service personal have been deployed to fight fires raging across the country:

Hundreds of thousands of fire-fighters reinforced with army troops on Saturday battled forest fires sweeping across central Russia, burning down villages and claiming some 30 lives.

With more than 120 hectares (about 300,000 acres) in flames, 238,000 fire-fighters were deployed in 14 regions, along with 25,000 vehicles and 226 aircraft, the emergency situations ministry said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called the fires “a natural disaster,” in televised comments on receiving a report from Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov with some 2,000 troops joining efforts to tackle the blazes.

Is global warming to blame?

Obviously we can’t point at Russia’s heat wave and say with 100% certainty that global warming is to blame. However, the events in Russia were predicted. As Canadian journalist Gwynne Dyer notes in a recent article notes:

“It cannot be proved that the wildfires now devastating western Russia are evidence of global warming. Once-in-a-century extreme weather events happen, on average, once a century. But the Russian response is precisely what you would expect when global warming really starts to bite: Moscow has just banned all grain exports for the rest of this year…”

And for those who doubt the ability of climate scientists to make predictions:

“…Late last year, Britain’s Hadley Centre for Climate Change produced a world map showing how different countries will be affected by the rise in average global temperature over the next 50 years. The European countries that the Hadley map predicts will be among the hardest hit — Greece, Spain and Russia — are precisely the ones have suffered most from extreme heat, runaway forest fires and wildfires in the past few years.

The main impact of global warming on human beings will be on the food supply, and eating is a non-negotiable activity.

Today Russia, tomorrow the world.”

Old King Coal: on why we will most likely fail to avert serious climate change

Daniel Gross has written an interesting article in the UKs Guardian on why it is more than likely we’ll fail to avert catastrophic climate change:

Why has every attempt to set prices for global carbon emissions failed? The answer can be found in one word: coal – or, rather, the fact that coal is cheap and abundant. 

Burning hydrocarbons (natural gas and petrol) yields both water and CO2. By contrast, burning coal yields only C02. Moreover, compared to natural gas and crude oil, coal is much cheaper per ton of CO2 released. This implies that any tax on carbon has a much higher impact on coal than on crude oil (or gas). Owners of coal mines and their clients are, therefore, strongly opposed to any tax on carbon. They constitute a small but well-organised group that wields immense lobbying power to block efforts to limit CO2 emissions by putting a price on them, as the planned US cap-and-trade system would have done.

Gross isn’t optimistic:

A planet composed of nation-states that in turn are dominated by special interest groups does not seem capable of solving this problem. Unfortunately, there is enough cheap coal around to power ever-higher emissions for at least another century. The world will thus certainly become much warmer. The only uncertainty is how much warmer that will be. 

Determined action at the global level will become possible only when climate change is no longer some scientific prediction, but a reality that people feel. But, at that point, it will be too late to reverse the impact of decades of excessive emissions. A world incapable of preventing climate change will have to live with it.

Russia is burning and the seas are dying.

But company profits are up.

You win some, you lose some.

[Hat tip]

What does it take to change the mind of a climate “sceptic”? Reality…

Russia is burning*

Often I wonder what it would take to change the mind of a “sceptic”.   

A really good argument? A collection of the “right” scientific papers… name calling?   

Perhaps for some these tactics might do the trick. However, the one argument that trumps all the objections to the scientific evidence that the deniers throw out is reality.   

Because ultimately it is the reality of climate change that will convince even the most committed sceptic.   

Once the army of angry bloggers and spin doctors who deny climate change start to notice the world outside they’ll wake up to the fact that CO2 has raised global temperatures.   

Let’s just hope it’s not too late.   

However for an example of a former sceptic accepting the reality of climate change one only has to look at the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev. Late last year Medvedev was on record doubting climate change. 

However recent comments made by Medvedev in the last few weeks indicate he now accepts the reality of global warming.  

So what was the argument that changed Medvedev’s mind you ask?   

The reality of climate change.   

You see, Russia is literally on fire.   

Russian scepticism of climate change  

Medvedev is on record doubting climate change, calling it “…some kind of tricky campaign made up by some commercial structures to promote their business projects.”   

The Russian’s official position on climate change mitigation was one of ambivalence, as noted in this article by Time:   

“Broadly speaking, the Russian position has always been that climate change is an invention of the West to try to bring Russia to its knees,”   

Indeed, mainstream media in Russia reflected this belief:   

“…Two months before Copenhagen, state-owned Channel One television aired a documentary called The History of a Deception: Global Warming, which argued that the notion of man-made climate change was the result of an international media conspiracy. A month later, hackers sparked the so-called Climategate scandal by stealing e-mails from European climate researchers. The hacked e-mails, which were then used to support the arguments of global-warming skeptics, appeared to have been distributed through a server in the Siberian oil town of Tomsk, raising suspicion among some environmental activists of Russia’s involvement in the leak.”   

This broad scepticism in both the government and amongst the public found expression at Copenhagen. Again, the “official” Russian position on climate change was one of scepticism:   

Then, at a preliminary round of climate talks in Copenhagen in late October, Russia sent an even more disappointing message. The head of the country’s delegation, Mikhail Zelikhanov, a parliamentary deputy for Prime Minister Valdimir Putin’s United Russia Party, questioned the basic premise of the fight against climate change. “Scientific circles in Russia and elsewhere still do not have a united opinion on the causes of global warming,” Zelikhanov told the group of lawmakers from 16 countries in the hall of the Danish parliament. He suggested that an international panel be created to study whether or not global warming was the result of human actions and whether it could be stopped by cutting pollution.   

The “official” Russian position on climate change was one of scepticism. 

But that was until the appalling heat wave of this year.   

Russia is burning   

Climate change is not a future problem: the world’s climate is changing with devastating effects. 

It’s not a problem for our grand children and children to deal with. 

It’s a problem for the here and now

At present Russia is currently experiencing its worst heat wave on record, with catastrophic fires raging across the country as crops wither and die in the heat. Indeed, Russia has placed a temporary ban on grain exports as a result of the worst drought on record. This will impact food prices across the globe.   

Nor is it Russia alone. 

Canada has experienced “excessive rains” leading to a 17% decline in wheat production. Poland, North Korea, China and Pakistan have experienced devastating floods.  Nashville Tennessee was flooded in a what has been described as a “once in a thousand-year storm”. 

To date the fires, heat wave and accidental deaths have killed almost 5000 people in Russia:   

Death rates have escalated steadily since the heat wave began, according to statisticians. “We recorded 14,340 deaths in Moscow in July, that is 4,824 deaths more than in July, 2009,” said Yevgenia Smirnova, an official from the Moscow registry office.   

Firemen are battling to stop the flames encroaching on the capital. Moscow’s landmarks, including the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral, were shrouded in a thick, acrid haze. Those workers not ordered to stay at home wore masks as they struggled through the streets.  

Russian President Medvedev in a speech to various international sports associations on 30 July noted the connection between climate change and the conditions the country where currently suffering under:   

We are in the middle of an unprecedented heat wave, but I hope that this has not spoiled your stay in Moscow. We have never had such record high temperatures before. At times I have the impression that I’m somewhere in Italy or in Egypt, but certainly not in Moscow.   

At the same time, this creates the opportunity to get a feel for all of the different faces of Moscow. I hope that Moscow’s hot climate has not tired you out, and that you have not lost faith in our ability to hold the Winter Olympics.    

Frankly, what is going on with the world’s climate at the moment should incite us all (I mean world leaders and heads of public organizations) to make a more strenuous effort to fight global climate change.    

As the Time article noted above, Medvedev’s statements on climate change are unequivocal: the temperatures and fires are unprecedented. It is climate change. We need to act.   

Medvedev now recognises the danger. 

But how have other climate change “sceptics” responded to the above facts?

By hiding their heads in the sand.

How do other deniers maintain their cognitive dissonance? Looking for information that will make them “feel better” 

Of course, the unfolding tragedy in Russia has not shaken the confidence – or delusions – of the most prominent deniers. 

As the world’s media is focussed on the fires, and Medvedev changes his position on climate change, the bloggers at the infamous “Watts up with that?” note it was really cold back in January:   

There has been a lot of talk about the hot weather in Moscow over the last couple of weeks. This normally gets reported as the “hot weather in Russia.” But Russia is a big country, and much of it has been experiencing cold temperatures.   

Yes, there indeed has been a lot of talk about the fires… but don’t worry, other parts of the country are cold!   

The Caucuses and nearby Kazakhstan have been getting hit by one cold wave after another…    

One could not find a clearer  example of the psychology of the deniers.  

Simply put, it’s about ignoring the world outside and looking for “facts” that soothe their anxiety.   

“Shhhhh!” whispers the denier, “…don’t talk about climate change! Here is some cherry-picked information to make you feel better… “   

* Sourced from   

The Caucuses and nearby Kazakhstan have been getting hit by one cold wave after anotherThe Caucuses and nearby Kazakhstan have been getting hit by one cold wave after another
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