Climate Change: Compared to What?
While in my car last week, I heard a story on NPR about how climate change makes storms like Ida even worse. I am no climate expert, and I am of the belief that the climate is changing due to both natural and manmade factors; but I know when a story sounds credible or not. This one didn’t, like many others I hear or read.
During the whole thing, I kept thinking of Thomas Sowell who said: “There are three questions that would destroy most of the arguments on the left:
- Compared to what?
- At what cost?
- What hard evidence do you have?”
Actually, I think no matter what side of the climate policy debate you favor, you should ask yourself those questions. The NPR reporters clearly didn’t do so. The piece completely ignores the “compared to what” question, nor did it provide any hard evidence, which is shocking since the point of the story was about climate change making things worse now than before.
See for instance:
“HERSHER: What climate change does is it adds fuel to a hurricane, fuel in the form of heat. So hurricanes form over water. You can think of them like engines spinning up like a propeller on a plane. And the energy for that propeller comes from the heat in the water. As the earth gets hotter, because of climate change, the water on the surface of the ocean it also gets hotter. So there’s more energy for storms like Ida to get really big and really powerful.
CORNISH: What’s the evidence for that? How do we know this happened with Ida specifically?
HERSHER: So we can basically observe it in real time, which is pretty terrifying. So, for example, let’s talk about the wind. On Saturday, the day before Ida made landfall, it had top wind speeds of about 85 miles an hour, which is pretty serious. It can remove shingles from a roof or snap off the limb of a tree. But overnight, the storm got a lot more powerful. The top wind speeds jumped to about 150 miles an hour. That is fast enough to tear whole roofs off of houses, snap power poles, you know, uproot entire trees. And that extra power, it came from the water in the Gulf of Mexico.”
While I listened I was thinking, “well, yes I guess this is how hurricanes operate. How is this different than in the past, though? And: How does this ‘expert’ explain the fact that sea surface temperatures have been rising since 1910, well before the sharp increase in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases?”
The only vague reference to a measurement of sorts was this:
With respect to the assertion that “85 degrees, which is a few degrees warmer than average…” Which average? Average in the Gulf? Over what time period? I am not trying to be difficult, but this is not giving me information I can use to convince anyone who’s not already convinced. By comparison, here is what AEI’s Benjamin Zycher has to say:
That whole piece is a must-read as he calls for climate change realism, as opposed to catastrophism. He also sent me this link to peruse with this note: “No trend over 40-50 years in the satellite data for cyclones, major cyclones, or accumulated cyclone energy.”
In the same vein, the Wall Street Journal had a piece by Bjorn Lomborg also looking at this issue from a different angle but with the “compared to what?” question in mind. First, he had a chart looking the number of hurricanes making landfall over a 120 year period.
Then he put some of the data in perspective for those who say that there may not be more hurricanes now, but the ones we get are stronger than they were before. He writes:
He explained that point on twitter by adding this: “Satellite data starts around 1970, when Atlantic hurricanes are in a lull. Only looking from 1970s will incorrectly give an impression of an increase.”
Looking at the cost of hurricane damages isn’t too useful either, except to ask if maybe some government programs have created bad incentives for the growing number of people living and building in disaster prone areas. For a good article on this issue see Ike Brannon in Regulation Magazine.
I am sure people can take issue with some of these data. But the point of this post isn’t really to convince you that the evidence does not support the assertion that climate change makes strong hurricanes like Ida worse (though if you got that out of it, I would consider it a bonus). The point I am trying to get across is that if you are trying to make that argument like NPR reporters and many others often do, at the very least give us some “hard evidence”, and please, answer the question, “Compared to what?”