NYTimes Claims Western Heat Wave Caused by Climate Change Based on ‘Rapid Attribution’ Study

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The New York Times claimed Wednesday that the recent heatwave in the western U.S. was caused by climate change, citing a “rapid attribution” that has not been peer-reviewed, and downplaying the uncertainty expressed by scientists about the causal link.

The Times reported in an article titled “Climate Change Drove Western Heat Wave’s Extreme Records, Analysis Finds”:

The extraordinary heat wave that scorched the Pacific Northwest last week would almost certainly not have occurred without global warming, an international team of climate researchers said Wednesday.

“Although it was a rare event, it would have been virtually impossible without climate change,” said Geert Jan van Oldenborgh of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, who conducted the study with 26 other scientists, part of a collaborative group called World Weather Attribution.

The study is the latest in a growing body of research termed “rapid attribution” analysis, which aims to establish if there is a link between climate change and specific extreme events like heat waves, heavy rain storms and flooding. The goal is to publicize any climate connection quickly, in part to thwart climate denialists who might claim that global warming had no impact on a particular event.

The study, which took a little more than a week, is not yet peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal. But it uses techniques that have been peer-reviewed before over the decade that these kinds of studies have been done. World Weather Attribution itself has completed about 30 of them since 2015.

The idea that “global warming had no impact on a particular event” is not “climate denialism.” Rather, it is a scientific (null) hypothesis that specifically presumes the earth is getting warmer. The Times reverses the burden of proof: rather than seeking to show that an event is caused by climate change, scientists must now presume it was, or be “denialists.”

“Attribution” analysis is specifically criticized by former Obama administration climate scientist Steven E. Koonin in his new book, Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters.

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