Saturday, November 03, 2012

Fashionable Apocalypses

In summary (I hope), the problem with the Sandy discussion is two-fold, I think:
  1. The notion that it and the flooding and destruction was caused by climate change, that it's a binary situation and this, or something very much like it, wouldn't have happened if climate change wasn't occurring. Andrew Revkin put it well on Science Friday yesterday, and it's worth a listen
  2. The situation we're now in where every extreme weather event being somehow due to climate change. They are not -- hurricanes, floods, and fires have happened through history, some of them devastating. (Even drowned animals -- see below).
Here is just a small set of claims I found this morning:

Hurricane Sandy (October 2012):
Politico: "'This is an absolutely unprecedented storm,' McKibben said."

Hurricane Isaac (August 2012):
Climate Progress: "Hurricane Isaac Caps Off America’s Summer of Extreme Weather"

Colorado Wildfires (June 2012):
Brad Johnson, Think Progress: June 2012: "Obama announces an “all-hands-on-deck” response in his weekly address to the nation from Colorado Springs, after visiting the devastating wildfires, but does not mention the role climate change had in fueling the fires, including higher temperatures, more intense drought, and bark beetle infestations."

Minnesota Flooding (June 2012):
Steve Perlberg, Think Progress: "Western wildfires, record-setting temperatures, devastating floods, and other extreme weather made more extreme by global warming have welcomed us to summer 2012..... Zoo Animals Drowned in Minnesota Floods"

Hurricane Irene (August 2011):
The Daily Beast: "Hurricane Irene’s dangerous power can be traced to global warming says Bill McKibben—and Obama is at fault for his failed leadership on the environment."

Hurricane Earl (Aug-Sept 2010):
Associated Press: "Warm water, especially more than 80 degrees, fuels hurricanes. As a storm heads north, usually the water is cooler and the hurricane quickly runs out of steam. But not this time.... With global warming, water is likely to be warmer farther north than it is was [sic] for the past century,” Borenstein adds."

New England Flooding (April 2010):
Brad Johnson, Think Progress: "Global Boiling Is Washing Away The Northeast With Wild Wet Weather" (emphasis mine)

Hurricane Ike (September 2008):
Brad Johnson, Think Progress: "Global Boiling: Hurricane Ike Part Of New Era Of More Destructive Storms"

One could, of course, easily go on. And some have. (To be fair, some have not.)

Last night I started reading the novel Earth by David Brin. In a section written as a book excerpt from the year 2035, he wrote,
In ages past, men and women kept foretelling the End of the World. Calamity seemed never farther than the next earthquake or failed harvest. And each dire happening, from tempest to barbarian invasion, was explained as wrathful punishment from Heaven.

Eventually, humanity began accepting more of the credit, or blame, for impending Armageddon. Between the World Wars, for instance, novelists prophesied annihilation by poison gas. Later it was assumed we'd blow ourselves to hell with nuclear weapons. Horrible new diseases and other biological scourges terrified populations during the Helvetian struggle. And between wars, of course, our burgeoning human population fostered countless dread specters of mass starvation.

Apocalypses, apparently, are subject to fashion like everything else. What terrifies one generation can seem obsolete and trivial to the next.
I am not saying climate change will come to be seen as obsolete and trivial. Just the opposite -- it's a potential calamity of a unique order, though we're in the beginning of it -- it's the projections which are scary, which is why so many scientists are so deeply concerned about it in a different sense than any previous threat (even nuclear war -- that would be a decision based on political and diplomatic failures; climate change is due simply to how we live). But it can become an hysteria too, while now might be happening, thanks to pushy activists like those above who are using it for their particular purposes. Even though many of them no doubt think we should be getting hysterical, blaming everything on climate change is as misleading as ignoring or denying it completely. More importantly, it's ineffective, not least because it ruins your credibility. But clearly some activists have calculated that their PR message is worth the risk to their trustworthiness.

10 comments:

Victor Venema said...

I am not part of the blog-o-sphere that long, but what strikes me is the climate of fear among the "sceptics" since Sandy. WUWT alone has 21 posts on Sandy. Have people with more experience seen a larger extreme?

Even if it is not fair to blame Sandy on climate change, I would not like to be in their shoes. It was also not fair to blame the Italian earthquake on the scientists that said it was not more likely to occur.

Warning too much damages your credibility. Warning too little can cost lives and make you mighty unpopular. Poor "sceptics".

mike said...

Each of those "fashionable apocalypses" were squashed (or managed in the case of nukes and bio-warfare) with huge legislation and treaties.

Distaste is not a strong enough argument against eminent danger.

dan said...

on CNN, Christine AMANPOUR interviews several professors and experst who talked about how climat echange was part of SANDY story,

ask ,m,e DAN BLOOM reproter iN taiwan

http://pcillu101.blogspot.com

Unknown said...

david
you rushed to judgment. in fact, most climate activists said that Climate change and Global warming had nothing do with what i call "northeastercaine Sandy" ...and i am deep climate acitivsit polar city man, and I also say CC and AGW had nothing to do with the storm. I remember one like this in 1955 in western mass. and 1938 my dad told me. and there are always storms. So to conclude, CC and AGW had nothing to do with the storm. BUT surely david, climate chaos is coming down the road, in around 300 to 500 years and the images from Sandy will help and serve as a wake up call for what is coming down ThE ROAD, 30 generations from now. if you do not believe me google POLAR CITY RED by Jim Laughter, written based on my work that Andy Revkin wrote about in NYT in 2008. google "polar cities + danny bloom" to see. We are indeed headed to near extinction of human species by 1000 years from now due to climate chaos. So Sandy is good and important media wake up call. Yes no?

taiwan77 said...

GET ME REWRITE: "I am not saying climate change will come to be seen as obsolete and trivial. IT won't. It's real and we need to pay attention. The very existence of the human species is at stake. In fact, -- it's a potential calamity of a unique order, though we're in the beginning of it -- it's the projections which are scary, which is why so many scientists are so deeply concerned about it in a different sense than any previous threat .....But climate denialists like David Appell can become an hysterical, too, ....using it for his particular rightwing denialist purposes. Blaming everything on climate change is as misleading as ignoring or denying it completely. Clearly ''some'' climate activists like Danny Bloom and climate denialists like Anthony Watts have calculated that their PR message is worth the risk to their trustworthiness.''

Carl Safina said...

More air blowing here. How about some analysis. A graph of hurricane frequency, storm diameter, and max category strength for all named Atlantic coast storms of the last 50 years would help.

Mike Mangan said...

Good point, Dave, and as you can tell from the comments, a point that will be ignored. Warmists have relentlessly used the same ineffective techniques for years now and never seem to notice how badly served they are. Why is that, in your opinion?

Arthur said...

What matters is not the convenient labels so easily put on people, "activists" or whatever, and what those many different groups may choose to do.

What matters is the human toll. 110 Americans, at least, died with this storm. Something like 100,000 homes and businesses have been destroyed so the death toll could have been far worse. The vast majority who died were killed by rising flood-waters in areas that were under orders to evacuate. They did not. They ignored government authorities telling them to leave, or waited too late. Why did this happen? How can we avoid it in future? Are you proposing anything that would actually make that situation better?

PantsOnFire said...

@Carl Safina

Here is a look at global hurricane data: http://policlimate.com/tropical/global_major_freq.png

Here is a look a Roger Pielke Jr. graph where he has normalized US hurricane damage: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-a33CrrOCDHA/UJLqAWbm6aI/AAAAAAAACIY/CWVIhnDF7QE/s1600/normdam2012.jpg

David Appell said...

Carl: I provided global graphs, here:
http://davidappell.blogspot.com/2012/10/about-sandy-and-ultimate-in-cherry.html

I don't see the trends there. Am I wrong?