The English-language website of Der Spiegel has provided a map that highlights several areas around the world that have been most impacted by climate change. In his short introduction explaining the map—which is excerpted below—Axel Bojanowski points out that whenever an unusual weather event happens somewhere in the world, people reflexively attribute it to climate change. But this is not always true:
A flood, a storm, an avalanche: Such events are almost always caused by global warming. That, at least, is the impression one tends to get from the media. Hardly a natural event or environmental transformation takes place any more without it being suspected of having something to do with anthropogenic climate change.
Usually, though, the situation isn't that simple. Myriad factors play a role, such that it is often impossible to identify a clear connection between natural phenomena and climate change.
Even in the supposedly clear-cut case of Sarichef Island in Alaska, a bit of research is all it takes to trigger doubts. In August, residents of Shishmaref, the only settlement on the island, voted in favor of relocating to the mainland because of a rapidly eroding shoreline. The people of the island were fleeing from climate change, it was reported, with rising sea levels destroying their island.
But a look at the geological data shows that in contrast to many other areas of the world, sea levels in the region haven't risen for at least 20 years. Prior to that, there had been no systematic collection of data. Measurements also show that the volume of the ice floes in the region has also remained stable. So it appears to be implausible that the disappearance of sea ice, which helps protect the coast, is causing floods.
Plus, the island is a so-called barrier island, essentially a large sandbank that is constantly shifting and changing in accordance with ocean currents and the weather. Towns such as Shishmaref, located directly on the coast, are constantly in danger. A half century ago, residents of the island were already considering leaving it. As such, blaming the coastal erosion on climate change may not be accurate.
Image: Drought in Spain. Via Der Spiegel.