Tag Archives: Extreme Weather Events

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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Climate Change and Disasters

The latest output of the IPCC has caused some stir, which is ‘The IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation‘. This is some commentary from Richard Black of the BBC who was leaked the report:

While it is “likely” that anthropogenic influences are behind the changes in cold days and warm days, there is only “medium confidence” that they are behind changes in extreme rainfall events, and “low confidence” in attributing any changes in tropical cyclone activity to greenhouse gas emissions or anything else humanity has done.

[and]

And for the future, the draft gives even less succour to those seeking here a new mandate for urgent action on greenhouse gas emissions, declaring: “Uncertainty in the sign of projected changes in climate extremes over the coming two to three decades is relatively large because climate change signals are expected to be relatively small compared to natural climate variability”.

[and]

It’s impossible to read the draft without coming away with the impression that with or without anthropogenic climate change, extreme weather impacts are going to be felt more and more, simply because there are more and more people on planet Earth – particularly in the swelling “megacities” of the developing world that overwhelmingly lie on the coast or on big rivers close to the coast.

This is from Andrew Revkin of the New York Times:

While the summary warns of enormously increasing risks from drought and flooding in decades to come, it is bound to disappoint climate campaigners — and it frustrated at least one, Joe Romm, even before it was released. The section on disaster losses correctly reflects the uncertainty injected in such analysis by confounding factors, including rapidly shifting human populations and the paucity of solid data over long periods.

Perhaps the most amusing take on the report comes from Joe Romm, who is mentioned in the New York Times report, who headlines that the report was a missed opportunity to warn of coming catastrophe. However, he takes some comfort in the following:

Fortunately, the public already understands that global warming makes extreme weather more severe, as new polling reveals:

[diagram of poll removed]

September polling by ecoAmerica found that 57% of Americans already understand “If we don’t do something about climate change now, we can end up having our farmland turned to desert.”

That’s okay then. Even if the sainted IPCC says things that do not agree with doom-mongering, as long as people are scared, all is well with the world. He then goes on to cite a series of articles that he believes prove that global warming is a catastrophe. Sitting in the middle of the debate, Judith Currie has the following to say about the report:

This report is better than I expected, although I suspect that some of their conclusions are based on weak arguments  (we will have to wait for the full report).  The two most important aspects IMO are the recognition of the importance of natural variability and also vulnerability.  The dominance of natural variability for the past 40-60 years  in determining extreme events makes the AGW extreme events attribution exercises (see here) seem even more pointless.  The weakest part of the report is the high confidence level of the future projections (including  one “virtually certain.”)  I suspect that different authors worked  on the “Observations” section than those working on the “Future” chapter; too bad the “Future” authors didn’t read the “Observations” section first.

I would most strongly recommend that, if following any of the links here, the most interesting is Judith’s evaluation of the report, which is detailed and incisive. On the skeptic side, this is what the Global Warming Policy Foundation has to say about the report:

If and when mankind’s influence becomes apparent it may be just as likely to reduce the number of extreme weather events as increase them.

Surveying the state of scientific knowledge IPCC scientists say they cannot determine if mankind’s influence will result in more, or fewer, extreme weather events over the next thirty years or more.

Jo Nova has the a more direct and scathing approach to the report:

This is another big tipping point on the slide out of the Great Global Scam. IPCC scientists — facing the travesty of predictions-gone-wrong — are trying to salvage some face, and plant some escape-clause seeds for later. But people are not stupid.

A conveniently leaked IPCC draft is testing the ground. What excuses can they get away with? Hidden underneath some pat lines about how anthropogenic global warming is “likely” to influence… ah cold days and warm days, is the get-out-of-jail clause that’s really a bombshell:
“Uncertainty in the sign of projected changes in climate extremes over the coming two to three decades is relatively large because climate change signals are expected to be relatively small compared to natural climate variability”.

Translated: The natural climate forces are stronger than we thought, and we give up, we can’t say whether it will get warmer or colder in the next twenty years.

This multipurpose prediction means that in the future, if it’s colder, they’re right; if it’s warmer, they’re right; and they have it covered for more or less storms, floods, droughts, blizzards and frost too.

Jo captures some of the shifting sands of the debate. Despite all the uncertainties, one way or another, we are all nevertheless doomed. It is part of the ongoing trend in the AGW camp to muddy the waters as predicted outcomes of climate change are not taking place/following the script. interestingly in the updates, Jo quotes ‘scientists’ who nevertheless insist that the signal of AGW will emerge one day, with the implication that the report changes nothing about the necessity for urgent action. Jo points out:

Wait for it, in trying to control the damage from this, Prof Palutikof reveals a deeply unscientific, religious mindset. There is no signal yet of man made influence, but she “knows” it will emerge. A real scientist would wait for the observation. [below was in quotes in the original]

Jean Palutikof, director of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility at Griffith University, in Queensland, said the findings of the UN report would “not surprise anyone involved in climate science”. Professor Palutikof said it would take a while for the effects of climate change to become visible. But without action, she said, “gradually, over time, that signal will emerge with resounding clarity”.

From my perspective, I view the report with the same cynical view that I apply to all the output of the IPCC. As I have discussed before, there are some good and honest scientists working for the IPCC, but the organisation also has some characteristics that mean that their reports are not to be trusted. In other words, it is not possible to dismiss the IPCC reports which are supportive of the AGW thesis, then accept the reports that are less supportive as being ‘good science’.

However, the report is interesting in that it seems that there is finally some explicit and very clear acknowledgement of the uncertainties involved in understanding the impacts of climate, although the coverage is patchy (again, see Judith Currie’s discussion). This seems to be a positive step forward, but we will have to wait for the full report in February to see whether the devil is in the detail.