The signals are clear enough, and conditions that seem bad now may be regarded as relatively benign in decades to come
After the driest winter on record, Sir David Attenborough wouldn’t be the only Briton to blame the wettest English summer ever on global climate change, on some inexorable shift in the planetary machinery that upsets all reasonable expectation. There is a connection, although no single meteorological episode in any locality could ever be directly linked to global warming: this flood or that cyclone might have happened anyway. Even the increasing frequency worldwide of climate-related disasters, along with the lives, homes and harvests lost, cannot be entirely blamed on the steady increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Population growth and economic development each year deliver more potential victims, with more to lose. Finally, the measured increase in the intensity of extreme events – ever fiercer heatwaves, ever more violent floods – rests on an uncertain premise: if systematic weather records in many parts of the world are barely a century old, what does it mean to declare something “the worst ever” or a “once in a century” flood?