Changing weather extremes - why it isn’t an “alternative fact”

Come join us for a free seminar by Dr. Francis Zwiers on climate science and "alternative facts," sponsored by the Trottier Chair in Sustainability in Engineering and Design. 

5:30 pm on August 30th, 2017

MD267 Macdonald Engineering Building, 817 Sherbrooke W., McGill University

Abstract

Stories about extreme weather and climate events around the world often make media front-page headlines, alongside the recent upswing in “alternative fact”, or fake, news. These stories about extremes draw our attention because of their immediacy and the devastating impacts, which often include deaths and up to billions of dollars in damage. Two Canadian examples include the Fort McMurray wildfire (2016, >$3.6B in insured losses) and the Calgary floods (2013, $6.7B USD in total losses), including extensive damage to public and private infrastructure. In the aftermath of such devastation, media and others, including those responsible for infrastructure, ask whether such extreme events are now more frequent or intense than in the past, whether they are caused by human influence on the climate and if they represent a harbinger of the future.

In most cases, climate science does find that human influence played a role, consistent with the overwhelming body of evidence indicating a human contribution to the observed changes in average climatic conditions over the past century. Nevertheless, at a localized level, the effects of climate change can be hard to detect, leading to possible discrepancies between our own personal experience of climate change and the findings of climate science, and to difficulty in projecting how climatic loads on infrastructure may change in the future. In this new era of “alternative facts”, it would be a fallacy to rely solely on personal experience, reject the findings of the climate science community and consequently fail to prepare for the climatic changes ahead. The potential risks to infrastructure are central to this concern. While the difficulties in quantifying historical future changes in climatic loads on infrastructure at the local scale are real, information that can be used to mitigate at least some risks is available.

 

Speaker’s biography

Dr. Francis Zwiers is director of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC) at the University of Victoria. His former roles include chief of the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis and director of the Climate Research Division, both at Environment and Climate Change Canada. As a research scientist, his expertise is in the application of statistical methods to the analysis of observed and simulated climate variability and change. Dr. Zwiers is an Honorary Research Professor at the University of Victoria, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and of the American Meteorological Society, a recipient of the Patterson Medal and the President’s Prize, has served as an IPCC Coordinating Lead Author of the Fourth Assessment Report and as an elected member of the IPCC Bureau for the Fifth Assessment Report.