The 100 Most Influential People of 2021
Otto: Horst Friedrichs—Anzenberger/Redux; Oldenborgh: Merlijn Doomernik
By Bill McKibben
September 14, 2021 1:30 PM EDT

For many years, the standard mantra in news stories about hurricanes and heat waves was that no single event can be linked to climate change, though scientists say global warming makes events like this more common. Thanks to Friederike Otto and Geert Jan van Oldenborgh and their colleagues at the World Weather Attribution project, we can now speak much more confidently: this summer, for instance, when a massive heat wave shattered records across the Pacific Northwest, their team quickly issued a deep statistical analysis that concluded the soaring heat was “virtually impossible without human-caused climate change.”

The pair—she’s German; he’s Dutch—have assembled researchers from around the world capable of rapid reaction, in contrast to the equally crucial years-long analyses of global systems performed by the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That speed means that people reading about our accelerating string of disasters increasingly get the most important information of all: it’s coming from us.

McKibben is an author and an environmentalist

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