Published On: Sun, Aug 9th, 2015

Droughts and Other Disasters: A Scientific American Reader

Five key SA articles from the past four years that help explain the connection between extreme weather and climate

“With your permission,” began a letter to the editors of this magazine published in 1855 (pdf), “I will lay before you numerous and scientific readers what I imagine to be the cause of drought. I believe it is caused by the burning of coal; that the smoke arising therefrom is injurious to vegetation, to the soil, to the air and to the clouds.” The editors replied, haughtily but justifiably, “Our correspondent has not given us a single reason for his belief in coal smoke being the cause of drought….”

Here we are, 160 years later, debating whether a by-product of the burning of coal and other fossil fuels—carbon dioxide—is to blame for historic dry spells such the California’s severe drought. As our correspondent Dan Baum writes in the August issue, scientists disagree about whether climate change is responsible for California’s problems, but no matter the cause, this drought looks like much more than a temporary hardship—it could fundamentally reshape the culture and economy of the state.

Read more …

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