While the nation mourns at the loss of life and property from Hurricane Harvey and awaits Hurricane Irma, members of the climate establishment are busy making the case that climate change made Harvey and Irma worse than it otherwise would have been.
Politicizing a tragedy says more about those who do it than it does about what they say. There is a fine line between explaining physical factors that cause a hurricane to gain power and drop record amounts of rain and those who attribute human use of fossil fuels as making those factors worse.
Hockey Stick creator Michael Mann said “Harvey was almost certainly more intense than it would have been in the absence of human-caused warming.” He made the assertion that because of human activities sea levels were higher, which meant that the storm surge that caused flooding was greater, and that the Gulf’s water temperature was warmer, having risen from 86F to 87/88F.
The Washington Post offered the same argument: “Climate change may not have “caused” Hurricane Harvey, but it seems likely that warming temperatures — the consequence of man-made greenhouse gases trapping heat in the atmosphere — exacerbated the storm conditions.”
CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen labeled Harvey a “one-in-1,000-years type of event.”
The same arguments were made by others who accept the climate orthodoxy without question.
The narrative promoting the “we caused it” news does not hold up under close examination. Sea levels, according to MIT’s Carl Wunsch, have been rising since the end of the last ice age—16,000 years ago—and will keep rising until the next one. In a presentation to the EPA he stated, “Historical data are not adequate to compute accurate global averages. No mathematical trick compensates for missing data. Present multidecadal estimates of global averages have an element of fantasy about them. (Among other issues, an unsubstantiated blind faith in models). Altimetry represents the only realistic technology for quantitatively determining present and future changes, but much more needs to be understood of errors present in the system.”
But, altimeters have only been in use since 1992. The most recent report of the IPCC had this to say about sea level rise: “It is very likely that the mean rate of global averaged sea level rise was 1.7 [1.5 to 1.9] mm/yr between 1901 and 2010 and 3.2 [2.8 to 3.6] mm/yr between 1993 and 2010. Tide gauge and satellite altimeter data are consistent regarding the higher rate during the latter period. It is likely that similarly high rates occurred between 1920 and 1950.”
In spite of the IPCC’s statement that recent sea level rise is not unusual, given the errors mentioned by Wunsch, statements to the contrary should be taken with at least a grain of salt.
Michael Mann also referred to the gulf water temperature being warmer than previously. However, a writer about Florida, the beach hunter has published data on Gulf of Mexico water temperatures by month data. For August, the average temperature is 86-87F. More important is temperature variability ranges from 5-7 degrees. So, there is nothing remarkable about the temperatures cited by Mann.
Was Harvey really a “one-in-1000 year” hurricane? While the rainfall from Harvey was epic, the hurricane hardly qualifies as a very rare event. USA Today published a list of the worst hurricanes in US history-- worst hurricanes—which provides some perspective for judging Harvey. One in particular—Hurricane Isaac—in 1900 may be the worst ever experienced in the US. Like Harvey, it was a category 4 when it made landfall but had stronger winds. It destroyed the city of Galveston and resulted in 6,000-12,000 deaths. Advances in technology and preparedness have helped us avoid another catastrophe like that one.
The rhetoric about Harvey and climate change will continue because it helps zealots create a scary image about the future. The reality, however is much different. As Roger Pielke recently pointed out, it has been 12 years since we have been hit by a category 3 or higher hurricane. Both the IPCC as well as the US National Climate Assessment program indicate that here has been no longer increase in hurricane frequency or intensity.
False narratives may boost ratings, sell newspapers, and provide notoriety but they do not inform.
William O'Keefe is a contributor to Economics21.
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