Tag Archives: denier

The Weather is Getting Worse?

Oh, dear. Philip Duncan at the New Zealand Herald has written a story that uses the idea that storms are getting worse due to climate change. He is described as a ‘weather analyst’. I have no idea what a ‘weather analyst’ might be, but it is hard to imagine that it has anything to do with science. For example, he says the following:

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.

Let’s deal with his ‘facts’. First of all, although the world has warmed, the reason for the warming is the issue i.e. is it due to human activity? The other problem is that he uses the expression that’ the world is heating up’, despite there being a pause in the warming. This from Judith Currie:

This concept of a recent pause in the warming seems to be fairly widely accepted by many mainstream consensus scientists (e.g. the recent Greenwire article),with explanations ranging from aerosols, to solar, to oceans. The duration and magnitude of a pause that is significant in the context of the AGW debate is debatable, but I have made some suggestions.  Note that the short time scales considered here preclude determination of a statistically significant trend at the 95% confidence level, although lack of statistical signficance does not negate the existence of a pause as defined here.

The facts about insurance companies paying out more is absolutely true. However, the reason is straightforward. There is more building/population increases in places which are at risk of extreme weather events; for example the massive coastal developments in places like Florida, or the building of housing on flood plains in the UK (see here for serious analysis). This is from Dr. Roger Pielke Jr., who specialises in climate change and natural disasters.

There is seemingly a bottomless well of nonsense on disasters and climate change. I have long ago accepted that such nonsense is, like the presence of arguments rejecting the basic science of climate change, a situation to be lived with rather than changed. Even so, I can still poke some fun.

As just one of his many examples, Dr. Pielke gives the following:

  • Climatewire reports uncritically a claim coming from Swiss Re that “the financial toll of global weather disasters amounts to between 1 and 12 percent of U.S. gross domestic product annually.” This totals $160 billion to almost $2 trillion.

Reality Check: The actual number for global losses as a percent of US GDP is closer to 0.1%, with the maximum about 1.2% in 2005. The total cost of all hurricanes since 1900 in normalized dollars is about $1.4 trillion. The media (in general) rarely question numbers given to them from the reinsurance industry and on disasters and climate change have a strange aversion to the peer reviewed scientific literature. Innumeracy.

In another post, Dr. Pielke summarises the widespread reporting of connections with climate change and disasters saying the following:

The information above documents a pattern of misrepresentation of the science of disasters and climate change in the Stern Review report, the reports of the IPCC, an the US CCSP. The pattern of misrepresentation has three common characteristics:

1. Reliance on non-peer reviewed, unsupportable studies rather than the relevant peer reviewed literature.

2. Reliance on and featuring non-peer reviewed work conducted by the authors of the assessment reports.

3. Repeated reliance on a small number of secondary of tertiary sources, repeatedly cited such that intellectual provenance is lost.

The evidence presented here, and in great detail via the links, is unambiguous and unequivocal in support of my claims. Though if you would like to refute them with evidence, please do so in the comments. Until the climate science community cleans up its act on this subject it will continue to give legitimate opportunities for opponents to action to criticize the climate science community.

Interestingly, deaths from extreme weather events are actually at a low point, global tropical cyclone activity has reduced, and there is a host of other evidence that questions whether there are more natural disasters than before (see here for links to many other sources, and my previous discussion of an IPCC report on climate change and disasters). In summary, whilst it is correct that insurers are paying out more, there is no evidence that this is a result of climate change creating more extreme weather. I end the point with a long quote from Professor Judith Currie:

Judith Curry, chair of Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
The substantial interest in attributing extreme weather events to global warming seems rooted in the perceived need for some sort of a disaster to drive public opinion and the political process in the direction of taking action on climate change. However, attempts to attribute individual extreme weather events, or collections of extreme weather events, may be fundamentally ill-posed in the context of the complex climate system, which is characterized by spatiotemporal chaos. There are substantial difficulties and problems associated with attributing changes in the average climate to natural variability versus anthropogenic forcing, which I have argued are oversimplified by the IPCC assessments. Attribution of extreme weather events is further complicated by their dependence on weather regimes and internal multi-decadal oscillations that are simulated poorly by climate models.

I have been completely unconvinced by any of the arguments that I have seen that attributes a single extreme weather event, a cluster of extreme weather events, or statistics of extreme weather events to anthropogenic forcing. Improved analysis of the attribution of extreme weather events requires a substantially improved and longer database of the events. Interpretation of these events in connection with natural climate regimes such as El Nino is needed to increase our understanding of the role of natural climate variability in determining their frequency and intensity. Improved methods of evaluating climate model simulations of distributions of extreme event intensity and frequency in the context of natural variability is needed before any confidence can be placed in inferences about the impact of anthropogenic influences on extreme weather events.

As for the claim in the Herald article that ” 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.” This fact is indeed correct (e.g. see here). Ok, but has there been any evidence that might support this taking place in New Zealand? I do not mean anecdotes, I mean rigorous scientific analysis. None is given in the article. As has been discussed, there is no evidence on a global scale. Another problem with the article is that Philip Duncan starts with an anecdote, as follows:

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.

This paragraph is followed by the discussion of the ‘facts’ quoted earlier, implying that the snow is the result of climate change, but then he later suggests New Zealand might benefit from climate change

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?

Another concern is Philip Duncan’s poor attempts to suggest that he is something of a neutral observer.

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.

The article describes exactly the kind of scaremongering that he purports to not to subscribe to. In his conclusion, he says the following:

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.

This is, from any reasonable point of view, scaremongering. In places, he tries to dress up the piece with expressions of doubt and balance, but the entire impetus of the article is towards ‘we are doomed’, with the further implication that we can do something about the problem. Despite at times trying to appear to take a balanced view, his use of the word ‘denier’ in the article reveals that there is nothing balanced in his view.

As a last note, I am currently unaware of any scare mongering from the skeptic side of the argument, except to point out the potential for economic harm from policy to mitigate global warming. It is a very, very odd statement. The skeptical position is the opposite of scare mongering…..

Overall, another big ‘fail’ for the quality of discussion about climate change in the New Zealand Herald.

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A Balanced View

In broad terms, it would probably not be unreasonable to say that the debate over climate change can be described as fractious. In many cases, entrenched position meets entrenched position, and the result can become ugly. I have just read a very balanced view on the debate at Judith Curry’s excellent blog Climate Etc.., in which she seeks civilised debate on climate change. Don Aitken, a former President and Vice-chancellor of the University of Canberra, presents a very good essay on the state of the debate as it currently stands.

Of particular interest is that he accepts the uncertainties in the science, and recognises that the decline in interest in the global warming thesis is in part due to overblown claims, including problems in the IPCC (such as using advocacy groups as sources, instead of using peer-reviewed papers). He also presents a good characterisation of positions on the debate, including those positions that seem to derive from religious convictions, rather than positions that rely on science.

Having said this, as a skeptic, I found that I did not neatly fit his categories, which I will list below:

4 Agnostic dissenters The orthodox arguments rely heavily on models and conjectures. AGW is plausible and possible, but we need real evidence before we do anything. In particular, we need to be able to distinguish AGW from natural variability. A little warming may be good for humanity, as it seems to have been over the past thirty years.

5 Sceptical dissenters Many sceptics are well informed about one or other aspect of the central AGW proposition, and can show difficulties with it; they tend to argue that the failure of the orthodox to satisfy them in these domains means that the whole AGW proposition is void.

6 Opponents AGW theory is just a scam, a sign that the Marxists have taken over the green movement, an attempt by some to construct world government, a conspiracy, a sign of lazy journalists, the effort of bankrupt governments to stay in power, etc. There is nothing to it.

From my perspective, it is possible to take elements of all three positions, and still not be at the extreme of the spectrum. For example, I do think that journalists have been lazy, and that environment correspondents have seen their profile raised by the anthropogenic global warming issue. As such, they do have an interest in supporting the story. Also, there are people engaging in the debate who are anti-capitalist, and who seem to be a new reincarnation of Marxism.

Notwithstanding these kinds of quibbles, I think that the essay would be an excellent introduction to those who have just read the scare stories promulgated by advocacy groups and ‘lazy journalists’, but who have not yet heard the other side of the debate. In particular, the moderate tone lends credibility to the point that those who raise doubts about the global warming thesis are not ‘climate denier’ crazies, but people with valid points of view that deserve attention.

I also think that the essay is a signal of a change in the approach to the anthropogenic global warming controversy. It seems that there is a growing acceptance that there are real and compelling questions about the evidence given to support the global warming thesis. In other words, it is a signal that the tide is starting to turn.

Overall, a really excellent essay, and one that I would strongly recommend.

Note: Don Aitken offers an interesting discussion of terminology as per below:

As you see, I am using the phrase ‘anthropogenic global warming’ to denote our subject, but you can also think of it as ‘human-induced climate change’, ‘climate change disruption’, or ‘catastrophic anthropogenic global warming’. They all mean the same. I’m using AGW, the original term, because it focuses attention on the core of the issue, while the phrase ‘climate change’ is ambiguous, since climates have changed over time for reasons of natural variability, and will continue to do so.

I often struggle with the question of the best terminology, so it is interesting to see that I am not alone in this. I also note that he spells ‘sceptic’ rather than skeptic. I suspect that my spelling is U.S. English, and is resultant from working in international organisations with U.S. English as the preferred usage.