Please do not erupt. But when a volcano called Hunga went off in Tonga, possibly heralding some long-term global cooling as well as immediate local danger and distress, a CBS news anchor blamed it on climate change. He then denied doing so, foolish in the era not just of video recording but also of the Internet. His actual words were “We talk about climate change quite a bit. These stories are a harsh reality of what we’re going through and we have to do our part because these are more frequent.” Now Eric Worrall generously concedes that the studio might have put him on the spot by editing the volcano segment together with his more general fretting about… um… tsunamis. But others were even more insistent on making the link, such as NBC’s “Calls for more Tonga aid, climate efforts from President Biden mount”. They just can’t help themselves.
We note that this story is in NBC’s in their “Asian America” section, which suggests they could use an atlas or a computer with Internet access, since Tonga is far closer to Australia and New Zealand than the United States and was never under American control. Wikipedia says it was instead a British protectorate from 1900 to 1970 though never an actual colony and perhaps coincidentally has the only remaining indigenous monarchy in the Pacific Islands, though it has been a constitutional rather than absolute monarchy since way back in 2010. Mind you Wikipedia also describes it as having been “a regional superpower” from around 1200 to 1500 so it never hurts to check your sources. But we digress.
The point is that when NBC says “Tongan American-led activists are calling for Biden to increase that amount, as well as to amp up efforts against the root issue of climate change” we have to ask, what is climate change being blamed for here? Eruptions? Tsunamis? Everything bad? Apparently so. Referring to a statement by local activist groups, NBC reported “The Jan. 15 disaster decimated entire villages in much of the country, including schools, businesses and farmland, activists said. Those recovering also fear that water and air contamination could expose them to disease later on in life. ‘There is no question that such devastating impacts are a result of climate change,’ the statement said.”
In classic modern journalistic style, the statement itself is not properly identified let alone linked to. But it seems to relate to “176 Asian American and Pacific Islander groups [who] are urging President Joe Biden to do more.” Who exactly authorized them to speak on their behalf is not clear, nor is it clear how there can be so many when Tonga has only 104,000 people. What is clear is that these unfortunate people seem to think that climate change had something to do with the volcano, and that Joe Biden can do something about either.
The New York Times’s “Climate Fwd.” said the volcano was almost exciting. “Eruptions emit sulfur dioxide gas, and if enough of it is shot high enough into the atmosphere, it can have a cooling effect on the Earth.” But it doesn’t happen often and “The last one was at Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, which pumped about 20 million tons of the gas into the air when it erupted in 1991. That led to global cooling of about 1 degree Fahrenheit, or half a degree Celsius, for nearly two years.” Note the air of pseudo-precision about the effects, both temperature and duration worldwide, even though it seems that with new instruments non-climate scientists have much to learn from Hunga.
Everyone else is just going to die. From the Hunga eruption “Satellite sensors measured a relatively small amount of sulfur dioxide, about 2 percent of Pinatubo’s output. Not enough to provide a temporary respite from the inexorable march of global warming.” Inexorable. Bummer. And should 2022 prove cool, look for Hunga to make a comeback as a cooling event.
The Washington Post felt that “Volcanic eruptions can release enormous amounts of sulfur dioxide and aerosols that, in large enough quantities, can cool the planet and work to snuff out a La Niña pattern. Though there was initial speculation that material released by Hunga Tonga could have a similar effect, some experts were quick to point to the magnitude of its release being simply too comparatively minute.” Since La Niñas cause cooling it’s all a bit complicated with cooling snuffing out cooling and all.