“This sort of record-setting drought and heat wave is the sort of thing you would expect with climate change and global warming,” says John Williams, director of the Center for Climatic Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Climate scientists have flagged the American Southwest, including Texas, as likely to get drier in this century.
“It’s very hard to attribute any single extreme event — a drought, flood, storm — to global warming. But the broader picture is very consistent with the idea that climate change is moving faster. Every year, temperature records are set, but more records are being set on the upper end rather than the lower end. And you can’t explain the warming in recent decades without bringing in human causes, greenhouse gas emissions.
“Studies of past climates suggest that atmospheric circulation may have altered in just one to three years, and we have seen a complete reorganization of the plant community in a decade or a century. The forest and global-change community has been taken aback by how quickly the pine beetle is moving [through Western forests]. Drought stress, and the lack of a cold winter that would cause a beetle die-off, play a role. It’s clearly an abrupt ecological change, and although it looks like global warming, that would be difficult to prove.
“There’s a misconception when we ask whether climate change is related to any extreme event. The scientific community has moved past that — climate change is happening, and is detectable now. The relevant question is what do we do about it. What are the costs, the benefits and risks?”