Climate and climate change do not cause or influence weather

By Roger Pielke Jr.

It is now a ubiquitous cultural ritual to blame any and every weather event on climate change. Those hot days? Climate change. That hurricane? Climate change. The flood somewhere that I saw on social media? Climate change.

With today’s post, the first in a series, I go beyond the cartoonish media caricatures of climate change, which I expect are here to stay, and explore the actual science of extreme events – how they may or may not be changing, and how we think we know what we know, and what we simply cannot know.

Quite apart from the outsized and oversimplified role of climate-fuelled extreme weather in culture and politics, climate is fascinating and important – and worth understanding as more than a meme. This post lays the groundwork for this new The Honest Broker (“TBH”) series, starting with some important definitions and a quantitative thought experiment.

Let’s start with the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) definition of climate” (bold emphasis added):

In a narrow sense, climate is usually defined as the average weather, or more rigorously as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period for averaging these variables is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The relevant quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation and wind. Climate in a wider sense is the state, including a statistical description, of the climate system.

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