Are we seeing the first serious signs of climate change? For decades scientists have been warning of a slowly warming planet. A few degrees doesn't sound like much, but if you have ever watched a tropical storm move over water that is just 2C warmer, you'll know it can make the difference between a slightly damaging category 1 storm and a catastrophic category 5.
During the snow storm last August many people commented "so much for global warming". The thing is, a warmer planet means bigger snow storms. Winter temperatures will still fall below freezing but a couple of degrees more warmth in the air can lead to more moisture and that makes bigger snow storms.
But the problem with diagnosing climate change as the reason for the increase in worldwide severe weather is that you need decades to really review it, and by then it may be too late to reverse. Talk about stuck between a rock and hard place.
Fact: the world is heating up. Fact: insurance companies are paying far more than before for weather-related disasters. Fact: organisations such as Niwa and NOAA have been warning us for over a decade that climate change will lead to more floods in summer and more snow storms in winter.
Most studies and documentaries point towards mankind being to blame, but the weather is cyclical and warming and cooling patterns can return decades later.
I was watching a documentary a while ago on how earth was formed. One of the things that struck me was just how a small change could turn the planet into a steaming sauna, then plunge it into an ice age.
Personally, I don't subscribe to the scaremongering from the climate-change supporters, or deniers.
But the amount of severe weather around this planet in the past 10 years has been staggering.
I had a chat last year with Dr James Renwick from Niwa. We were discussing climate change, and he told me he lies awake at night worrying about what the future will hold for the next generation.
Dr Renwick also said something else: New Zealand may actually benefit from climate change. But how will we cope with the world wanting to move here in 100 years? And what about the millions who will suffer as a result of more droughts, floods and extreme weather?
The reason why the world is warming is something I still am not sure of, but I do know something is changing. And if we don't get on top of it in the short term, our grandchildren may have to deal with something mankind hasn't faced in thousands of years: a heatwave followed by an ice age. While Western nations will adapt to climate change, the poor nations of this world will not. And we are talking about hundreds of millions of people who may suffer.By Philip Duncan Email Philip