Up in the air? Not really

In Maharashtra a few months ago, BJP president Rajnath Singh drew a link between global warming and the ongoing drought in the state, considered the worst since 1972. He wasn’t the only one to make that connection : in an age of volatile weather, it’s become almost common to look for links between global warming and the latest extreme weather event – be it a hurricane, a drought or a heat-wave.

There are at least two problems with using climate change as a catchall explanation for all sorts of disasters. One is scientific. Although research suggests that extreme weather is increasing, it’s difficult to causally link warming to specific events. The second problem is the more important one: it can become too easy to blame bad weather – an anonymous, apparently unstoppable natural force – for the failures of man-made development policies. In the case of the Maharashtra drought, for instance, an analysis found that the rainfall deficit in the state today is no worse than in 1972. The current drought had more to do with poor water management, bad cropping practices (the shift to water-guzzling sugar cane, for one) and unviable irrigation projects.

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