It should come as no surprise that acolytes of Global Warming (oops, pardon me, Climate Change) lost no time in trotting out their blame-us theories for the havoc that Hurricane Irene was expected to cause. As environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote in the “Science” section of The Daily Beast, “Irene’s got a middle name, and it’s Global Warming.” He makes the mistake that is frequently offered up by the devoted: anecdote is evidence.
As I pointed out in my post of June 20, the idea that global warming begets vicious hurricanes was widely circulated in 2005, after Katrina and her sister Cat-5 storms Rita and Emily ravaged the Gulf shores. The refrain was, “get used to it.” And the charge had a certain superficial plausibility to it. Hurricanes, after all, owe their destructive power to warmth in the water, and global warming naturally would be expected to make the world’s waters warmer. Add to that the commonly accepted corollary that global warming will cause land ice to melt, raising sea levels and increasing the amount of H2O available for storm surges like the one that inundated New Orleans’ 9th Ward. So it just makes sense that this series of monster storms was evidence of the destruction we have unleashed upon ourselves in our selfish obsession with consumption of carbon-based energy.
That year, 2005, remains the most active hurricane season in recorded history. And that’s the point. That was six years ago. If global warming is inexorable and increasingly deadly storms are the result, why haven’t we had a repeat since? The logical explanation is that weather is variable. It was a bad series of storms, no doubt of that, caused by a confluence of circumstances that lined up to maximum effect. But to seize upon an opportunistic set of occurrences and hold them to be illustrative of climate, without acknowledging that similar periods without such an occurrence argue the contrary, is simply intellectually dishonest.
Oh, the climate changers are too quick for that, though. Now that the evil is Climate Change, they can latch onto any weather occurrence at hoist it up the flagpole as supporting evidence. Heavy winter snowfalls, which cause subsequent major flooding, a particularly violent tornado season in the American South, the drought in New Mexico and Texas – as McKibben says, “this is what climate change looks like in its early stages.” Snowfall? Global Warming? No cause and effect is too Rube Goldbergian!
Now, I am not among those who say that all climate scientists are liars (although some of them clearly are) and the whole concept is a fabrication sustained by and for the tens – nay, hundreds – of thousands of people from academics to green lobbyists to politicians to well-connected corporations who benefit from the billions that flow from it. There may indeed be some substance to it. My point is rather that by declaring, as Al Gore has done repeatedly, that “the science is settled”, we accept as a premise something we just don’t know to be true. And the policies that flow from that premise can be literally deadly.
Back to hurricanes, for instance, and the deadly effect of anthropologically-warmed sea water. It is plausible, but far from established fact, that global warming is making our seas warmer. It is also true – and far more authoritatively established – that due to a phenomenon called the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean rise and fall over periods of decades, and we are currently in – get this – a warming cycle! It should come as no surprise that “the hurricane activity index is found to be highly correlated with the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation.” Lo and behold, warm cycle, stronger storms. Now, critics may point out that a multi-decade natural phenomenon can’t have much scientific validation, because we just haven’t been measuring things accurately for that many decades, and one needs many, many decades to get a proper sample. And this is an admitted shortcoming – but the same can be said for all the claims of the climate scientists. We just don’t have enough data to be sure of these things.
But it would help if the Global Warmists would stick to the facts. One of the principle claims they make is that melting ice will raise sea levels worldwide, making storm surges more deadly, inundating shoreline populations, and covering low-lying islands altogether. I have been skeptical of this one for a long time. After all, the Arctic ice cap, which indeed appears to be melting, is an enormous floating ice cube – it’s already on the water. Anyone who has seen their gin-and-tonic get diluted on a hot summer day can tell you that floating ice raises no water level when it melts. So we are left with land ice. Parts of Antarctica might be melting, but by and large the ice mass there is growing, not melting. And of Greenland, I can’t escape the thought that when the Vikings discovered and named it, it was green, and at about the same time London (Londinium at the time), lying at sea level, was a thriving medieval town. Not much sea rise there.
But don’t take my word for it. Ask Nils-Axel Morner, head of the Paleogeophysics and Geodynamics department at Stockholm University. As a practical geologist, he has done the field work all over the globe from the Maldives to the Tuvalu Islands to Venice, to examine the alleged rise of sea levels. His finding: there is absolutely no trend discernible worldwide since at least 1970. Those that claim to find evidence, according to him, have found it in computer models that have been programmed to produce the intended results, and have not been validated with real-world empirical data.
It is enormously important to get this right. The believers that came up with the Kyoto Protocol actually wanted the world to reduce its carbon consumption – for all practical purposes, that means energy consumption – by 10-15% or more. Put that on a per-capita basis with a growing population it’s an even greater cutback. But energy consumption is virtually synonymous with economic production. You can’t throttle back on the one without choking off the other. Not only would that put millions out of work in this country – on top of the ones already looking for a job – but it would doom hundreds of millions in the developing world to lives of poverty and disease. Already Mr. Obama’s EPA is smothering American industry with a “wet blanket” of new regulations in pursuit of the chimera of carbon-free prosperity. Not to mention the hundreds of billions of your money and mine that is being wasted trying to midwife a “green energy” revolution of which the underlying economics are simply not there. Imagine how much worse it would be if we were actually trying to comply with Kyoto.
Many find the Precautionary Principle beguiling: even if we don’t know Global Warming is true, we should act as though it is. The planet may depend on it. Problem is, we are sure of the costs of the carbon-free prescription, and they are enormous. If there is a Principle involved, it should be to balance what we know to be true against what we suspect might be going on.