If you haven’t seen the latest Bloomberg BusinessWeek cover, you really ought to take a look.
“It’s global warming, stupid!” blares the news magazine, against an ominous red background and a photo of flooded, darkened city streets. The magazine bears the name of Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, which was among the cities struck last week by Hurricane Sandy. Its editors must believe BusinessWeek readers have fairly thick skins, or are smug enough to presume the cover means to patronise someone else. Either way, BusinessWeek seems to have picked up the baton of lurid covers dropped by Newsweek upon the demise of its print edition.
They’d probably call it bold, brave and true journalism. In reality, it is ugly, alarmist and false sensationalism.
Oh, no, wait. They don’t call it true after all. In the very first line of the story, they admit their phrasing is “unsophisticated”. They add: “Men and women in white lab coats tell us – and they’re right – that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode.”
Quite so. The New York Times grudgingly admitted: “Hesitantly, climate scientists offered an answer this week that is likely to satisfy no one, themselves included. They simply do not know for sure if the storm was caused or made worse by human-induced global warming.”
Scientific American, a magazine with a distinguished history of environmental exaggeration (and consequently a frequent source for my book on this subject), isn’t so coy: “If you’ve followed the US news and weather in the past 24 hours you have no doubt run across a journalist or blogger explaining why it’s difficult to say that climate change could be causing big storms like Sandy. Well, no doubt here: it is.”
Equally cocksure, BusinessWeek can’t resist taking a swipe at a stick-figure caricature of those who disagree with them: “Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.”
It is doubly stupid to assert that there are people who deny that climate even exists, let alone changes as a matter of course. Therefore, one can only interpret the phrase “climate denier” as either a straw-man argument that compares climate sceptics to people who are wrong on entirely different subjects, such as Aids, or a coded personal reference intended to compare sceptics of the catastrophism of the environmental movement to Nazis. Either way, it is an insult that avoids the issue.
So let’s annoy BusinessWeek by having the discussion.
The funny thing is, every time climate sceptics point to some weather event that appears to support their view, the alarmists retort that “weather is not climate”. Yet every time there is a cold winter, or a drought, or a hurricane, the alarmists are all over the newspapers saying “look, it's climate change”.
Well, no. Weather is not climate. Whether the climate is changing, what the causes might be and what humanity might be able to do about it, are questions that are entirely independent of local weather observations.
However, a common prediction made by those who believe climate change is largely caused by humans is that warming will lead to an increase in the frequency of hurricanes, or failing that, an increase in their severity.
So, to ascertain the validity of this claim, I trawled through 160 years of US and Atlantic hurricane records. I then charted hurricanes that made landfall in the US, per decade, distinguishing major hurricanes of category 3 or higher (see chart alongside).
As it turns out, recent decades aren’t anywhere near record territory, either in number of hurricanes, or in their strength. In fact, as Roger Pielke, professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder documents, the last decade saw a record period of more than six years between major hurricane landfalls in the US.
For powerful hurricanes, the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s were the worst years, with eight or nine majors making landfall in each of those decades. For lesser hurricanes, down to category 1, the worst decade was more than a century ago, long before we supposedly started microwaving the planet.
(Note that there is some discrepancy between records of hurricanes that made landfall in the US, which I show here, and a similar chart of all Atlantic Basin hurricanes, which shows an increase in recent decades. Before the 1980s, hurricanes at sea – some of which never get anywhere near land – could only be reported by instruments on islands, ships or buoys, rather than by satellite observation of the entire ocean. The low rate of recent landfall suggests that claims of increasing hurricane frequency or strength based on the modern satellite record may well be an artefact of inconsistent measurements.)
A quick comeback to this observation is that sure, hurricanes aren’t getting worse, but what about rising sea levels?
That sea levels are rising, at a fairly consistent averaged rate of about 3.2 mm per year, is not in dispute. This has been the case for all of the 160 years charted above, and most scientists expect this rate to continue, or increase marginally, over the next century. Do you know anyone who recalls the 20th century, and tells you, “Ah, son, I remember it well. We sent a man to the moon. We beat both Adolf and Uncle Joe. Some of us went to Vietnam, and the rest dodged the draft and went to Woodstock. We listened to Chuck Berry and the Beatles and Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix. We built the Hoover Dam and the World Trade Centre. We saw Kennedy get shot in Dallas. And oh yes, sea levels rose by a foot. That was scary!”
Sure, marginally higher sea levels obviously lead to marginally higher storm surges, but the change is small compared to the variability of the tides. Many climate alarmists recognise that sea level rise attributable to global warming is small and not strongly supported by empirical evidence, so they resort to citing insurance industry data as a last resort to prove their claim that we’re all going to die.
But again, the connection between higher insurance claims and climate is so tenuous that one can’t consider it seriously as proof of anything. There’s a reason damage claims are much higher today than in the past. When Galveston, Texas, got flattened in 1900, or Holland was inundated by storms coinciding with spring tides in 1953, this wasn’t because of rising sea levels or global warming. In those days, the value of property, especially along beach fronts, was much lower, and insurance coverage was less extensive. So measuring by insured value is a deception. It likely doesn't show what climate change alarmists says it shows, and if it does, the extent to which it does so is very hard to show.
Likewise, deaths caused by hurricanes aren’t serious cause for alarm. There are more people than ever on the planet today to get in the way of storms. The last decade saw an exceptionally deadly storm make landfall in the US, in the form of Katrina in 2005. Still, the decade by no means represents a record, or an indicator of a long-term trend. The 1980s and ’90s recorded remarkably few hurricane-related deaths, and almost six times as many people died to hurricanes in the US in the first decade of the 1900s than in the same decade a century later.
Notably, my source for these numbers, Dr Indur Goklany of the US Department of Interior’s office of policy analysis, points out that almost half of the US deaths due to extreme weather are not due to heat, hurricanes, floods, lightning or tornados, but due to cold.
So, while the routine media hyperventilation about global warming in the wake of unusual weather is, at best, a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy – meaning B happened after A, therefore A must have caused B – it isn’t even certain that all the effects would necessarily be bad for us.
Natural disasters happen. They have always happened and they always will. As the world becomes more populous and more prosperous, they will cause more damage, and we will keep better records. But beyond some theorising by researchers whose livelihood depends on working on matters of grave perceived importance to government policy makers, there is little empirical evidence for the claim that climate change, or our debatable contribution to it, makes bad weather worse.
Besides, has anyone noticed the news that the US has, without signing the Kyoto Protocol, reduced its carbon emissions to such an extent that 1990 levels are, unexpectedly within sight? The drivers of this decline are tighter emission standards, a switch from coal to natural gas for electricity generation and the economic downturn, of which at least one (and arguably two) are clearly undesirable. But, declining they are, and despite this, Sandy struck. This suggests that there is also not much empirical evidence for the notion that policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will avert severe weather in future.
I wish those affected by Hurricane Sandy the best of luck recovering from this natural disaster. Spare a thought for the island nations that got hit before the storm bore down on the offices of the major US news media. They don’t all enjoy prosperous, productive, energy-intensive capitalist economies like that of the US, which can help them avert severe damage in advance and recover rapidly afterwards. DM
- Who needs the Queen’s English?
- Electric cars: Taking from the poor to give to the rich
- Business Licensing Bill: An indefensible defence
- Red-tape tourism
- The Big Business Bribery Bill
- On Thatcher and society, Vavi and the market
- Extinction: Let’s make up numbers and panic!
- Feeding the world is getting easier
- Stop talking shit: Build your own toilet
- Climate change is pseudo-science
- Anti-competitive competition law
- The Department of Less Government
- An open letter to President Zuma
- In defence of Kim Kardashian
- The world’s weirdest wildlife sanctuary
- Boycott calls are simple-minded
- In defence of vegans
- The population explosion implodes
- Environmental backpedalling picks up pace
- How Mangaung can help and hinder entrepreneurs
- The elusive libertarian enclave
- The Gathering: Ivo Vegter
- The hidden overemployment crisis
- The case for constructive environmentalism
- Privatise the Western Cape's shacks
- Tenders: Not open to employees or their families
- Hurricanes fuel climate sensationalism
- Next: Gross-out warnings on food
- No new deal: The failure of Zumanomics
- Benoni has a bright idea
- Was I wrong about acid rain?
- Public food gardens: Where dumb ideas thrive
- Rethinking the costly food label madness
- Give hunting a chance
- Fracking gets green light, but here's the risk
- Socialists, bless 'em, visit Cape Town
- Buy a 1Time ticket now
- Give the ANC credit where credit is due
- The myth of the competent apartheid government
- It's a disaster that 'peak oil' is not a disaster
- No Gravy: a label for sustainable business
- This lightbulb's going to blow
- Smokers? Get 'em up against the wall!
- Inflating the obesity scare
- Bring a Shotgun to School Day
- GMOs: Hacking genes to feed the world
- The hidden dangers of charity
- Fracking: the unread paper debated
- Fracking: The “U-turn” paper nobody has read
- Eco-cronyism is as dangerous as any other
- SKA: Be grateful Karoo residents didn't object
- Energy: Get cracking on fracking
- Fair trade, unfair trade-off
- Casual labour is only bad for Vavi's unions
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- How do we fix our dismal education?
- Barter: the rebirth of sound money
- Rights are not entitlements
- Debunking 'limits to growth' inanities
- Tax: Why align with "most other countries"?
- Newspaper sensationalism doesn't help rhinos
- Rolling Stone reprises Gasland's fracking fantasies
- Cosatu's manipulative march move
- Why do 16 million people not constitute an economy?
- The age of smear politics
- Does fracking cause earthquakes?
- The Chinese model is morbidly obese
- Green tech: doubling down on a losing bet
- Rape, pornography, and hell's grannies
- Petrol taxes won't hurt the poor
- Jailtime mooted for bad weather warnings
- Let's ban bans, and start with CITES
- In defence of overpaid sport stars
- On the death of Kim Jong-Il
- COP17: Let's ban fire
- Cancer gets you when nothing else can
- COP17: The 'party on' agenda
- COP17: The Blue Line of Death
- New seven natural inanities
- Occupiers' anger is all that makes sense
- The Luddites and Technocrats live on
- Malema marches for economic slavery
- Profitable purveyors of pudendal prettiness
- Sense? Us?
- If they want rhino horn, let's sell them some
- "Stimulate" economy by ending telco abuses
- Executive pay makes nobody poorer
- Malema's real persecution
- Mogoeng: Lock up your daughters
- Don't mandate insurance, deregulate healthcare
- I sympathise with Malema's persecution complex
- Short selling: panicked pols ban proof of failure
- Don't blame those who saw it coming
- What's obscene about profit?
- In defence of Bombela
- Dear president Zuma, you are not above the law
- The economics of love
- Treasure the Karoo? Ban the SKA!
- Malema is right, you know
- Gautrain's PPP: political patronage profiteering
- Kumi Naidoo is no hero
- LeadSA fails to lead when it matters
- No logo means carte blanche
- The drug war: dopey but dangerous
- A response to fracking critics
- Don't vote. It's your right.
- Welcome Walmart
- If you're happy and you know it clap your hands
- Buy local, support poverty
- Ubuntu, the free-market way
- Karoo fracking scandal exposed!
- I'm ashamed for my profession
- The bill of bunkum
- Being gay: a brand new concept!
- Who's afraid of the nuclear wolf?
- The nationalisation canard
- Ogilvy should grow a spine
- The new robber barons
- A classy revolution: Why we cared
- Bombastic Bombela balks
- Liberty is more than mere democracy
- Gautrain has a law unto itself
- The irony of 'services for all'
- How to hire a hitman in SA
- Arrive alive and neurotic
- The oppression of taxis
- Protection of Information Bill and why WikiLeaks is so dangerous
- Fifa, Russia and Qatar deserve each other
- One day, we'll all hate WikiLeaks
- The cycling mafia strikes again
- What Julius got for Christmas
- Let's return the beads
- Away with fascist seat belt laws
- Tintin Mbeki in the Sudan
- How the ANC can make everyone happy
- Currency: the race to the bottom.
- Hurrah for national healthcare!
- Give Zimbabweans citizenship
- Carte Blanche has no carte blanche
- That finger-licking, lip-smacking taste
- Bomb the barbaric lot already
- Green tax: another raid is coming
- Do strikers deserve anything?
- The media will lose this battle
- Global warmism needs a fisking
- A glass half-full
- Go ahead, have a baby
- Stop the handouts - end xenophobia
- The right to fire
- FIFA's heart of darkness
- Have some self-respect
- I ordered an orange skirt
- Secretly, Match blames South Africa
- The stupendous Gautrain: a rare marvel!
- The Fifa conquistadors are coming!
- What's wrong with everyone?
- Leave poor BP alone
- The destructive power of government
- The bonsai economy
- The darkness of Africa
- Who is ripping off whom?
- Anatomy of a whitewash
- While FIFA takes over, we fight
- The pointless pretence of Earth Hour
- Ten reasons to reject climate alarmism
- Really, boycott the FIFA farce
- The climate dominoes fall
- Lessons in ethics from Dick Cheney
- Screw the consumer
- In defence of bankers
- Break the banking cartel
- Julius Malema, the walking contradiction
- Boycott FIFA
- Climate clarity
- In defence of Boney M
- Pray Copenhagen fails
- Capitalism is not unkind
- Climate fraud kills people
- Pop goes the hot air balloon
- Peace, love and schadenfreude
- The irony of the left
- Too late to cool it?
- Going cold turkey