The strange time of this summer is the death of predictability



The city of Gallargues-le-Montueux, en route from Montpellier to Marseille along the French Mediterranean coast, was hit by the highest heat: more than 115 degrees Celsius, even hotter than during the famous French heat wave of 2003. The entire country – the entire continent – has gone through dazzling temperatures, shattered by the Aperol spritz and dripping asphalt last week, allowing European satellite data to represent the hottest June in the world. Europe since the beginning of the monitoring. France has cooked; Spain has been hanging on to wildfires that have burned thousands of acres.

Meanwhile, Antarctic ice is melting faster than expected. The region surrounding the Mississippi, in the west-central United States, is still facing floods of unprecedented magnitude since the catastrophic levels of 1993. A heat wave in northern California has roasted tens of thousands of Bodega Bay mussels in their shells. It's not just about overwhelming heat: in Guadalajara, Mexico, a hailstorm of frightening size followed by torrential rains left the mountain town, dug under a meter of ice. And after Seattle had endured forest fires for a month last summer, the city announced that it would open "clean air shelters" when fires would begin again, five days later. buildings equipped with expensive filters, open to enthusiasts You have no safe place to breathe.

If a film started with this news program, you know what kind of film it is. Charlize Theron, a robotic prosthetic robot, drove straight to the point and said, "Well, I saw him coming." Because he's actually coming. In many ways, he is already here. As almost all scientific reports and articles on climate change have predicted, what was once abnormal has become normal. Or rather, if you are looking for a new normal, you will not find it. There is not one. And it will be the most difficult part of life in a world that has changed climate.

So wait, wait. One might ask, quite rightly, if the whole weird weather this summer was, in fact, due to climate change. Of course, a team of climate scientists who reacted quickly evaluated the figures and estimated that the heat wave in Europe was five times stronger than it would have been without the emission of greenhouse gases emitted by humans in the atmosphere. But maybe that's not the right question. "For whom is it useful? This can be useful in case of litigation, if you want to know how many additional risks have been created by the emissions-related activities, "says Bob Kopp, a climatologist at Rutgers University and author of several national and international studies on climate change. But as Kopp says, you do not need official attribution to confirm the general trend. "It's not your imagination," he says.

Yes. This is really happening. Right now, things are not like before.

The basic concept here is "stationarity". Formally, it is the idea that the probability that an event occurs at a given moment does not change itself over time. In a less formal way, it means that the data on how often something was happening can tell you what the likelihood is that it will happen again. When you hear about 100-year storms or single heat waves, these frequency estimates assume stationarity. But when it comes to the climate, researchers do not expect it – in the water, like rain and floods, or in the fire, such as fires. Increasingly, scientists studying emerging infectious diseases, crop survival, air pollution, sea level rise and extreme heat all warn that past performance might not more be an indicator of future results.

The construction of clean air shelters in Seattle is an example of planning for the future, taking into account past performance. The city saw what happened last summer and acts accordingly. In a way, the same goes for the entire Mississippi River dike system, built in response to more than a century of river dynamics and transportation needs on the Mississippi River. ;water. Both are examples of adaptation, a technological overhaul of the built environment that humans undertake after making assumptions about the future. "But the question is: what do you adapt to? What is normal? The normal is constantly changing, "says Kopp. "If you just want to do the adaptation correctly, you have to recognize that you are adapting to an evolving baseline. And it's not just a radical change. The changes will continue to happen. "

This is not a "new normality". This is an "abnormal news". One of the half dozen catastrophic weather scenarios this summer is likely to stand out. But all at once? This may be the new face of summer. "I have also found some of the same feeling expressed last summer. And I forget what they were now: a whole series of events like this, storms, floods, heat waves, "says Frances Moore, environmental scientist at UC Davis, who has published earlier this year an article on how quickly people forget what is normal in changes in weather conditions. Basically, the effect is called "basic progressive syndrome" and this is what happens when a gradual long-term change meets the dumb and immediately gratifiable human brain. "Changing baselines come in as we see these strange summers again and again, over and over," says Moore. "We start thinking, even though each individual event is unusual, having a set of events around the world, all unusual, becomes itself standardized."

A changing baseline can actually be good news for inspiring adaptation, to do things that help keep people safe in a changing world. After a catastrophic heatwave in 2003, France has recycled its emergency staff and set up systems in case of problems. In June, it happened. And France was almost ready. The same goes for Seattle's clean air shelters, although on paper they look like a sort of dystopian science fiction in which everyone living under the dome is killed at the age of 25. But a good adaptation also requires, in a sense, acceptance. "We talk about adaptation as a good thing. It's better than nothing, but it's also a second-best solution, "says Moore. "Ideally, what we would do would be to solve this problem of collective action, but the city of Seattle alone can not do it."

It is better to adapt than not to adapt, to be able to remain still while the baseline changes. But mitigation – the reduction of carbon emissions from the economy – is also, in a sense, an adaptation. It tries to preserve stationarity and ensures that all planning is not in vain. It is safe to watch this summer a crazy time around the world so that people can prepare for it. Next summer, it is prudent to build more shade, plant more trees, strengthen dikes and develop better water management strategies. Sure. Let disasters motivate a tangible adaptation, even if everyone who bothered to watch knew they were coming ten years ago. "But wait until you see what climate change is doing and then react" was always going to be a losing strategy, Moore said. "When you see events that are serious enough for you to take action, you're too late to avoid it. the effects."

It's not too late, not yet. But the clock turns louder and louder. And as this summer shows, and last summer, and the previous one, it's not too early.


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