Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"... and scientists predict that by 2050 there will be 32.9 scare stories for every person in Britain"

This, by Johann Hari, is unpleasant tripe:



"Back in 2001, I wondered out loud – and in print – if it would take "an environmental 9/11" to finally break the corporate brake that is holding up all action on global warming in America. Since then, New Orleans has drowned, the South-east has dried up so severely the city of Atlanta is nearly out of water, and the skies over California have been turned red by the worst wildfires since records began.



More than a thousand people have died, and more than $70bn worth of property has been destroyed. Seeing Americans huddled together in refugee camps is something that no longer shocks us on the nightly news. Yet still the political debate in the US remains stuck far short of the drastic cuts in carbon emissions we need now if we are to stop this Weather of Mass Destruction.



The science is clear: these apocalyptic weather-events are unlikely to be freak one-offs. While it's hard to link any single hurricane or vast fire to global warming, Katrina and California's wildfires fit into the wider warming pattern of increasingly freaky weather predicted by climatologists as the world gets warmer."

DK points out that patterns of both rainfall and hurricanes have been pretty good over the last few years. Rainfall was poor last year but that was an exception rather than fitting some rule while hurricanes are actually at a historic low.


All this is highly persuasive and clearly Hari is playing at The Day After Tomorrow inspired doom-mongering in the Al Gore style rather than actually attempting to tell an honest story about American political discourse. However, the sheer strength of the data supporting DK's position worries me. It is setting up a very low base.

So far the pattern of hurricanes has been this:

If the frequency of hurricanes has nothing to do with climate change then, as far as I and other lay observers are concerned, it is a pretty random pattern. God may not play dice but as we don't know the factors driving hurricanes let us assume they're random. It isn't an assumption I'd recommend doing anything serious with but it will work for the purposes of this post. That makes it entirely possible that over the next few years the pattern will be:



The number of hurricanes could go up more, it could go up less, it could continue to fall. However, looking at the graph like that it is pretty clear that there is no reason to blame global warming. It would still look like a pretty random process.


However, I don't think that will stop some people claiming it as evidence for global warming. I think they'll present the pattern (not necessarily graphically) as:




They'll probably do this by saying something like: "the number of hurricanes has doubled in the last three years". Worse, someone - probably Dr. Someone - will do this:



The light-grey line is a projection and it pretty quickly leaves the historical range. An economist will be found to turn this into a prediction that the associated costs will be some astronomical portion of world product. A new scare story will have been born. Some lonely voices will point out that the trend described is misleading but they won't be able to make much of a difference.

Maybe I'm being too cynical but when a man can get a Nobel Prize for his documentary the same weak it is judged, in court, to have fatal flaws something has probably gone very wrong with the debate itself. What particularly angers me is that it might well be Johann Hari himself deploying the new 'increase in the number of hurricanes' as part of his rhetorical case. If he can get away with falsehoods now what is to stop him getting away with mere misleading statements in future?

What is even more infuriating is that I can see this coming but there's nothing that can be done about it. All we can do is hope that there are still bloggers around to point out the deceit and that someone is listening to them.

20 comments:

Jackart said...

Yup

Roy Cordato said...

The fact is that even if all these events were really attributable to global warming, there is not a single policy being proposed, except for possibly geoengineering which the scaremongers reject, that would change the course of climatological events for several centuries. So to imply that if we just adopt this or that CO2 reduction strategy we can avoid similar events in any relevant future is completely dishonest. Given this, and given that the scaremongers know this, then we must ask what is their real intention in calling for, in Al Gore's words, a wrenching transformation of society."

Vino S said...

The figures on the no. of hurricanes is interesting, but it doesn't [from my point of view as a layman] say anything about global warming. I don't know if a warmer general level of temperature will cause more or less hurricanes.

Additionally, the hurricane figures can themselves be misleading as they don't factor in the magnitude and location of hurricanes. Fewer hurricanes but ones that are bigger and closer to populated areas like Katrina would be worse than more hurricanes but ones that broke out at sea or in sparsely-populated areas.

I don't think (I could be wrong but, if so, i would like to see it pointed out when) that there has - in the period of significant human population of the Southern US been a hurricane as big as Katerina. As such, i think that people in the US like Gore are right to be concerned about the _magnitude_ of these as well as the number.

Re Roy's point, no one would be happier than me if global temperatures did not rise. But, it strikes me that it is the prudent thing to do to take measures re CO2 and other pollutants to limit their production and emission. After all, we hope that accidents don't happen but people still buy insurance. From my point of view it thus seems prudent to take measures to protect/insure us against the bad effects of global warming. The alternative strategy that Matt seems to be suggesting is that we just continue as we are and don't worry about pollution. This strikes me as being like an ostrich and burying one's head in the sand and hoping that everything turns out ok.

Matthew Sinclair said...

Vino,

That's all incredibly disingenuous.

"The figures on the no. of hurricanes is interesting, but it doesn't [from my point of view as a layman] say anything about global warming. I don't know if a warmer general level of temperature will cause more or less hurricanes."

That's exactly the point. This post responds to the many people who are blaming large number of hurricanes on global warming. If you agree that the evidence for that is weak then I don't know what you're trying to argue.

On the strength of hurricanes the link Jackart has provided is useful.

Your characterisation of my position on global warming you know to be false. I've set out the three strategies (adaptation, resilience and technology) that I would prefer to attempting big cuts in emissions on numerous occasions. Respond to that rather than this straw ostrich you've created.

pommygranate said...

Matt

Nice to see another libertarian joining BP. Welcome! (assuming you are oked)

Anonymous said...

It's not the large number of hurricanes that is a freak phenomenon caused by global warming.

It's the SMALLER number of hurricanes over the last couple years that is freaky, and definitely caused by global warming.

ANY weather phenomenon that shifts direction, either qualitatively (in a single event) or quantitatively speaking, can be presented as "freaky" and thus (the non sequitur "thus" of the armchair climatologist) caused by global warming. All you need is drama (people affected) and plausibility (that is now pretty much established by media repetition of the "caused by global warming" meme).

If the number of hurricanes and their strength were to continue downward for a few more years, that would be attributed to global warming, and it would be claimed that we NEED more and stronger hurricanes, but we've destroyed the planet's ability to produce enough and strong enough hurricanes.

Global warming can explain any weather phenomenon, because it is all done on an ad hoc, plausibility basis, not based on known causality of certain "global temperature" levels and consequent weather patterns.

Anonymous said...

Any scientist will tell you that finding reliable correlations in a system of many variables is very difficult. A couple of years ago, I helped organize a workshop where we intentionally put two scientists back to back: one was predicting the most active solar cycle in 100 years, and the other was predicting the least active cycle.

Here are a couple of variables you might not have heard of yet:

The solar system moves through the galactic disk over long periods of time (millions of years), like this:
* * * *
-*-----*----*----*--
* * * *
where the asterick is the solar system and the - is the galactic disk. Some paleoclimatologists have tried to correlate this to past climate shifts, with varying degrees of success.

Another variable is the slow (tens to hundreds of thousands of years) shift of the earth's magnetic field. It turns off, then turns back on in a different multipole configuration. Right now, the field is slowly turning off, exposing lower and lower latitudes to high energy radiation.

With so many periodic (and stochastic) variables, it is extremely difficult to generate a reliable prediction. CO2 is not the only parameter that matters.

Comparison of mitigation policies to insurance is misleading; it's only accurate if you mention that the insurance premium is so high that paying the insurance itself is a catastrophic thing. I would not go into debt to pay car insurance, and policy makers think twice before bankrupting our economy to pay global warming insurance.

Anonymous said...

The car insurance comment is spot on, with one further thing. It's not even that they're asking us to go into debt to buy car insurance. They're asking us to sell the car to buy the insurance. What they are proposing, in the name of potentially saving civilization, is nothing less than the intentional destruction of civilization. I wouldn't sell my car to buy insurance, and I won't quit my job and live in the woods eating roots, to keep my grandchildren from having to build our seawalls one foot higher.

Bob Lapointe said...

The 'global warming" debate continues on a political, economic and even entertainment level, but unfortunately, not very often on a scientific level. There are three basic questions that come to mind:
1.Is there global warming?
No scientific proof to my knowledge has been completed, and we are not sure if temperature increases are a long term trend, a short term trend, or a statistical blip in a different trend. Don't forget that less than 50 years ago there was a serious proposal to paint the arctic ice cap black, thereby absorbing more sunlight, to prevent an ice age.

2. What is man's role in contributing to temperature increase? Some scientists believe the best correlation between temperature and CO2 occurs when you lag the CO2 data, implying CO2 is a result, not the cause of warming. In any case, man's contribution to overall CO2 is relatively minor, so reducing it creates a minor change in a minor input, at great economic cost.

3. Are we moving from or moving to the "ideal" temperature? Landowners in central Saskatchewan would be pleased by a longer growing season - wheat and soy instead of hay. Eric the Red was certainly happy when he was ejected from Iceland that he could settle in a relatively warm southern Greenland.

The only truism that I have found in the debate is how little we know about how climate changes occur, but if you posit forcefully enough, more grant money to study it will come.

Anonymous said...

Hello Vino

in re:
"I don't think (I could be wrong but, if so, i would like to see it pointed out when) that there has - in the period of significant human population of the Southern US been a hurricane as big as Katerina. "

Considering the relative ease with which such information is obtained I am always surprised that the pro-GW people never bother to mention it.

http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/HAW2/english/history.shtml

As you can see from this official source (Nation Hurricane Center) there have been numerous and highly destructive hurricanes for hundreds of years and they show no relationship to the supposed global warming data.

The simple fact is that during hurricane season the USA experiences hurricanes. Amazing.

Pax,

InFides

Anonymous said...

Vino,

Katrina was definitely not the strongest hurricane to hit the US, but it was the most costly. Hurricane Camille which hit the Gulf Coast in 1969 had winds measured above 200MPH before it blew off ALL the windspeed guages in it's path!! Katrina by comparison had sustained winds of 120MPH when it hit land. Katrina would have been considered a mid sized storm had it not hit in a particularly vulnerable area.
I lived in the SE US at the time of Camille and clearly remember that for the next ten years one could drive along the Gulf Coast where it came ashore near Gulfport and see the path of destruction still there. The main US Hwy through the region was disrupted for years. And whats amazing is that this was all pre-Bush!

demopolite said...

"I don't think (I could be wrong but, if so, i would like to see it pointed out when) that there has - in the period of significant human population of the Southern US been a hurricane as big as Katerina."

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the others who have pointed out just how wrong this statement is! Katrina was a mid-level storm -- at Category 3 when it made landfall. The area that Katrina actually hit -- Bay St. Louis, Mississippi -- is making a pretty good recovery (I was there two weeks ago). New Orleans had problems because it is below sea level and the levees had not received proper maintenance for the last 75 years.

Katrina was not even the strongest storm to hit the state of Louisiana during 2005 -- Hurricane Rita, which it the Lake Charles, LA, area was a stronger hurricane. During the year prior to Katrina, a Category 3 named Ivan hit Alabama. The storm that destroyed Galveston, Texas in the 1800s is estimated to have been a Cat-3.

Three Category 5 storms that I can think of off the top of my head are Hugo (which hit North Carolina in the early 1990s), Andrew (which it Miami in the 1980s -- I believe), and Camille (which pinballed around the Gulf and hit just about every state on the Gulf Coast at least a little before finally settling in and destroying the Gulfport/Biloxi, Mississippi area in the 1960s).

Yes...I live in a coastal area of the Southeastern United States. Yes...we are used to hurricanes, we know what to do, and we do find the facination of the rest of the world pretty amusing. I do find it disturbing, though, that the people trying to make policy on these matters seem to have less of an understanding of what's going on down here than your average beach bum.

demopolite said...

Oh...and having lived here for most of my adult life, I can tell you that this is not a "freakishly slow hurricane season" either. We've had several years in which the no hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast or the Atlantic Coast.

Actually...I think that the chart attached to the article shows that...

Anonymous said...

Great post. I came here via Small Dead Animals.

There is one side to this entire issue that is most alarming. It is not about climate or which direction so-called climate change may be headed.

It is about the social engineers who have co-opted this issue to force their vision on humanity worldwide. We need some serious investigation into this to reveal who is behind the driver's seat. I suspect it has something to do with those who are sympathetic to international socialism (but I'm quite certain have never suffered it's negative consequences) and are truly "alarmed" at the collpase of the Soviet Union and the direction which China is headed towards capitalism.

This is the most pressing issue of the day. Perhaps we need some serious investigation into the UN, George Soros, Maurice Strong, et al to get to the bottom of this sinister movement. Forget about the Gorebot, he's just a toady of the real masters.

The Neo-cons fear Islam. All it will take is one exchange of nukes and Islam will be tamed like a dog that was barking too loudly until its master whacked it hard enough to make it shut up. But what we need to fear even more is the movement of international socialism and its deep roots in the universities, main stream media, and the like before it becomes "main stream thinking" and now they have co-opted "global warming" as another means to spread their disease and, hoo-boy, is it working on the masses.

Anonymous said...

To quote the World Meteorological Organization:
“Though there is evidence both for and against the existence of a detectable anthropogenic signal in the tropical cyclone climate record to date, no firm conclusion can be made on this point.”
In addition, "There is general agreement that no individual events in [2004 and 2005] can be attributed directly to the recent warming of the global oceans…[but] it is possible that global warming may have affected the 2004-2005 group of events as a whole.” (the 2004-2005 events referring to the sudden increase in tropical storm occurences)
Thus, it can be concluded that, indeed, we really do not have absolute assurance about anything a the given time. True, no one knows if hurricane occurences will increase or decrease in the future.
But we cannot deny that global warming is occuring. There is far too much evidence to support it to be denied, and so, hurricanes or not, it is a matter that must be addressed. It is quite obvious that global warming is, in some way, shape, or form, detrimental to our planet and shall be a major issue in the years to come, as it is now.
Therefore, you cannot base your entire argument off of the fact that there is no hard evidence to support anything. There is no hard evidence that a massive asteroid won't strike earth at 7:43 PM this evening either.
Global warming is a fact. It has been stated over and over, by the US EPA, the UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, etc. etc. No one know's exactly what it could do to us if left unchecked- will hurricanes increase? decrease?- holds no bearing because the fact that it exists remains and thus must be dealt with, and soon.

Anonymous said...

One thing that could be done now to pre-empt the alarmists would be to make claims that Global Warming will reduce hurricanes to x in 30 years based on the recent trends. None of the alarmists can point out the obivious flaw without gutting the premise of any future scare mongering.

Anonymous said...

Vino,

CO2 is not pollution ... and Katrina was a Cat 3 at landfall ...

I guess you are a layman ...

tom trevor said...

It is one thing when a hurricane devastates south eastern states. It is something else when it devastates long Island.

The Hurricane of 1938 destroyed large parts of Long Island. I think that adjusting for inflation it was one of the must expensive. This was before the build up of CO2 but during a very warm period in the US. The 1930's was the warmest decade on record.

The day before the hurricane hit my grandfather bought a barometer. He returned it because it said a hurricane was coming. After the hurricane he went back to the store and bought it again.

Anonymous said...

To Vino and Anonymous,

The actual climate data published shows that 1934 was the warmest year in the last century and since 1998 the temperature has not risen, in fact is slowly drifting down. The total change in the last 100 years is 0.7 degrees.

It is worthwhile to question what is the optimum temperature for the planet. Why is what it is now right. Greenland used to have vineyards. The slight warming in the last century probably was responsible for being able to supply the worlds food needs by increasing the usable crop acreage.

Retread

IofDeath said...

Shut up about Katrina already. For crying out loud, I read an article in Time magazine, over 15 years ago, which described New Orleans as lying below sea level. The article continued by saying how bad the levees were, how they needed massive work because sooner or later a cat 4 or 5 hurricane was going to hit the city dead center! All this while Al Gore was still busy inventing the internet and hadn't had the time to complete his "scientific" magnum opus!
I'm pretty sure that one day, when I do not know, another massive meteorite will strike our planet. Do I want to see all of the planet's resources devoted to stopping this one event? It's ridiculous. Every body should be involved in some type of maintenance organization, you are forced to bear certain risk because you simply haven't the resources to eliminate all of them (although legions of lawyers are waiting to differ). Global Warming is truely the scare tactic which is being driven by a socialist political agenda. If you can't see that, Al Gore is right, your future is bleak!