This is our Planet on Steroids. Any Questions?

Wildfires and baseball don’t often come up in the same conversation, but perhaps they should. It’s October and the Rangers are the AL West Champions, yet many in Texas would rather talk about the weather than baseball.

In fact, according to cost estimates by the National Climatic Data Center, the $35 billion disaster tab makes 2011 the most expensive year ever for natural disaster cleanup and management–and we still have three months to go. Scientific evidence confirms that around the world, human-generated climate change contributed to and amplified record-setting heat waves, drought and fires, torrential rains and snowstorms. Baseball gives us a way to understand how heat-trapping pollutants “juice” the Earth’s atmosphere and increase the frequency and likelihood of extreme weather events. Simply put, climate change puts the weather on steroids.

By any measure, Barry Bonds was a great ballplayer: .298 lifetime batting average, seven MVP awards, 1996 RBIs. But the achievements most often associated with Bonds come with the caveat that he used performance-enhancing steroids. In his 13 professional seasons prior to 1999, when Bonds allegedly started juicing, he averaged 32 home runs per season, with a career-high of 46 in 1993. From 2000 to 2004 Bonds averaged 52 home runs a year — a 63 percent increase— and broke the single-season home run record in 2001 with 73 home runs.

Imagine you were a fan at a Giants game in 2001. Is there any way to tell that steroids specifically caused the home run you witnessed? No. Bonds had hit with power throughout his career, so a home run would not have been out of the ordinary. What is accurate, though, is that steroids increased the chances that he would hit a home run. And therein lies the connection between climate change and steroids and baseball. Just as an atmosphere loaded with greenhouse gas pollution increases the frequency and potency of extreme weather events, Bonds’ steroid use increased his muscle mass and extended his workout times. It made home runs more likely.

A common argument against climate change is the inherent variability of weather patterns. To be sure, cycles such as El Niño combine with the sun and myriad other natural factors to create weather, and intense weather events would occur without climate change. No climatologist denies this fact, just as no one denies Barry Bonds’ natural athletic ability. But research confirms that when an outside force (steroids) compounds existing natural variation (athletic ability), the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events (home runs) rise.

People routinely ask climate scientists if a specific event can be attributed to climate change. Such a conclusion has been considered impossible because of the various forces that combine to create weather events, both benign and catastrophic. What could be said with great certainty is that climate change alters how weather events unfold, increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme events. Now, however, climate change’s influence on weather is becoming so pervasive that the classic question no longer applies, says Dr. Richard Somerville, climate scientist and professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.”All weather events are now influenced by climate change, because they develop in a different environment than before.”

No one can pinpoint which of Bonds’ home runs should be stricken from the record books due to steroid use. But the overall effect is clear: the legitimacy of his achievements is challenged constantly. For the planet and its people, the cumulative consequences of climate change will be more disastrous than a tarnished reputation.

Denial is not an option. Inaction will only mean more record-breaking disasters for Texas, even if the Rangers win the World Series. The time for action on climate change is now.

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