Extreme enough for ya?
I'm not talking earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes, although I could. I'm talking about the ordinary everyday stuff, which daily seems to be getting more extraordinary.
As extreme as North America's winter has been, it's nothing compared to Europe's. Unseasonal warmth in Central and Eastern Europe has caused bears to wake, grumpy, months early from their hibernation. Meanwhile, Scotland and Norway recover from hurricanes, for God's sake.
Fans of Michael Crichton will be quick to point out that last week's storms which battered Northern Europe were not true hurricanes, since they were not tropical. But that's a bit like saying George Bush can't be President, because President's can't be that stupid. The storms were severe and cyclonic, with torrential downpours and hurricane-force winds. So call it a "very bad storm" if you prefer, the results are the same. And it's going to get worse:
Storms 'to get more destructive'
The storms which devastated parts of Scotland last week will become more frequent and more destructive in future, experts are predicting.
Residents of the west coast and islands said the storm, which brought hurricane-force winds reaching 124mph, was the worst in living memory. It caused the death of a family of five whose cars were swept into the sea as they tried to escape the fierce conditions on South Uist, and left a trail of destruction in its wake.
Power and telephone lines were brought down, roads and bridges were closed, schools and offices shut and buildings damaged or destroyed. But, according to researchers studying the seas off the west coast of Scotland, last week may be just a taste of things to come.
Scientists from Thurso and Southampton predict that a trend of more frequent storms may be set to intensify as a result of climate change, driving up winter wave heights off the west coast. The work has been done by Thurso’s Environmental Research Institute and Southampton Oceanography Centre.
The theory, popularized in The Day After Tomorrow (and perhaps so sensationalized it was raised for some to the level of an apparent absurdity), says the Atlantic Conveyor is vulnerable to an influx of fresh water from glacial melt. If it shuts down, or even slows down, severe weather will result, and Northern Europe's temperatures will plummet. The weather Europe is seeing now suggests we're getting close to the Conveyor's tipping point.
Into this strange new world of hurt strides the Bush administration, and today's headline:
US tries to remove climate change references in UN disaster talks
The United States, which opposes the Kyoto protocol on global warming, is trying to remove references to climate change in UN talks aimed at setting up a disaster early warning system, a US official said Wednesday.
The US has voiced objections to "multiple" references to climate change in drafting documents for the global conference in Kobe, Japan on disaster reduction, said Mark Lagon, deputy assistant secretary in the State Department bureau of international organization affairs.
He said the United States believed climate change was a "well-known" controversy and that there were "other venues" to discuss it.
Good on Mr Lagon to bite his tongue, and stop short of calling climate change a "conspiracy theory."
So what is going on with the stubborn refusal of the US to admit and act upon climate change? I think it's wrong to believe the policy-makers ignorant. We saw last year what the Pentagon's secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by the UK's Observer, made of it: climate change "should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern." Britain could be Siberian by 2020, and major European cities sunk beneath rising seas. According to the report, an imminent scenario of catastrophic climate change is "plausible and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately."
But with a challenge to US national security, also comes an opportunity.
Climate change impacts everyone, but short of a runaway greenhouse effect (and no worries - we have a good 50 years or so to squander before that eventuality), some will be impacted more than others. Europe, for instance, would be expected to fare worse than the United States if the Atlantic Conveyor shuts down. The continent depends upon the moderating current to keep it out of the deep freeze. If it fails, then so will Europe.
And which continent of former allies is it, which is now viewed with suspicion as a potential 21st Century rival to American hegemony?
Having read the CIA's laughable reverse-psychology "advice" to Europe, I think there are likely some people in places of influence who wouldn't object to putting the continent on ice. ("The current EU welfare state is unsustainable and the lack of any economic revitalisation could lead to the splintering or, at worst, disintegration of the EU." Oh yes; the CIA would just hate to see the EU fail.)
Perhaps the Bush administration isn't as ignorant as it seems regarding climate change. Perhaps it knows, even better than we know, what is coming. And perhaps, weighing everything in the balance, they are saying, in effect, "bring it on!"
In other words, perhaps what we're seeing in environmental policy is another instance of Letting It Happen On Purpose.
If Condoleeza Rice can call the South Asian tsunami a "wonderful opportunity," what must Donald Rumsfeld be calling climate change?