A warming earth changes some things, not others – so is climate change as bad as they say?
Global warming is true. It has been verified by gradual events taking place over the past 150 years: glaciers retreating, Arctic ice melting, sea level rising, and coral reefs bleaching.
Glacier retreats are well documented, and are attributed to global warming (Figure 1). They can have serious effects, because glacier melts can feed reservoirs that are important for agriculture and everyday life at high altitudes.
Melting of Arctic ice can affect wildlife, such as polar bears, and local people who depend on the wildlife.
The bleaching of corals, monitored in the Great Barrier Reef for instance, can affect the chain of life that supports fish and the human resources of fishing and tourism.
Sea levels are rising steadily, but only very slowly, 2-3 mm per year globally. A prediction of about 3 feet of sea level rise by year 2100 is serious, certainly, but the world has lots of time to adapt by building 3 -foot seawalls to disarm the seawater surge that accompanies many hurricanes.
Extreme weather events.
In contrast are extreme weather events, that happen in a relatively short time. Examples are droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, and super-storm floodings. These events cause sudden injury or death, destruction of homes and commercial properties, displacement of people, loss of jobs and income, and homelessness.
If they can be shown to be worsening over time, they could be attributed to global warming. After all, global warming means the earth is heating, right, so that should mean droughts are more likely in arid regions. But climate scientists say warmer air can hold more water vapor, and cause clouds that pour out a deluge of rain over other areas. It’s a clever argument that can explain less rain or more rain – anything you like.
ASIDE: I asked an IPCC scientist about hurricanes in the US not getting any worse in the past 40 years, when GHG emissions accelerated and global temperature rose about 0.9 degrees Celsius (0.9C). He scratched his head for a moment, then said that many other factors affect hurricane intensity.
This was not a good answer. If other factors washed out the effect of temperature rise on hurricanes in the past 40 years, they would probably also wash out the effect of temperature in the next 40 years. That is, the man implied that hurricanes probably won’t get any worse due to a global temperature continuing to rise.
But we can do better than vacuous arguments like this. We can dig out the data and see what’s been happening in the past 40-50 years, when global warming has been substantial (0.9C).
Figure 2 shows that global hurricanes have NOT worsened between 1980 and 2022. This is despite the fact that hurricanes intensify above ocean water because the water is a little bit warmer, even just 1C warmer.
But perhaps there is a local effect when there is no global effect. There is no global worsening according to Figure 2. But hurricanes in the US do show a local increase.
In 2020 there were 30 named storms (they actually ran out of names in English and turned to Greek names). 2020 was the most active hurricane season on record, and 2021 was the third most active.
But looking at global data for droughts, wildfires, and super-storm flooding gives the same result as for hurricanes: global data from the past 40-50 years does not support worsening of these extreme weather events.
Flooding data due to super-storms.
The data for super-storm flooding was addressed by Steven Koonin. He found no worsening trend for global precipitation on land from 1950 to 2015 (see his Figure 7.2).
But he did find a worsening trend from 1960 to 2015 of extreme precipitation in the US, where there were more episodes of intense rainfall in the Northeast and Upper Midwest (his Figure 7.4). A prime example was in Louisiana in August of 2016 where 20 inches of rain fell in three days in East Baton Rouge.
My friend Mike in Houston recounts several other examples of intense 1-2 days of rainfall. We’re all believers down here, he said.
No worsening of extreme weather events.
On a global basis, there was no worsening of extreme weather events in the past 40-50 years when GHG emissions doubled and temperature increase by 0.9C. So why should we expect massive catastrophes over the next 40-50 years?
Many other scientists have confirmed this, and I’ll mention two of them. First, the book by Gregory Wrightstone, a geologist, is called Inconvenient Facts (2017). Second, a book by Steven Koonin, a hysicist, is called Unsettled (2021). Each book contains clear examples and conclusions that indicate non-worsening of extreme weather events in the past 40-50 years.
This casts doubt about doomsday scenarios for the world as a whole. At the least, this takes away some of the urgency of controlling emissions of GHG. And this position suits the fossil fuel industry just fine. If life-threatening weather disasters are not expected to surge as much as IPCC scientists forecast, then producers and consumers shouldn’t have to cut back their use of fossil fuels so rapidly, at least not from a global warming perspective.
But note that cutting back on coal is agreed by all parties for a different reason: its use does contribute to smog in the air and breathing difficulties that disproportionately harm children and elderly citizens.
Two bookend predictions are insightful. One, by DNV, an esteemed international company in business risk management services, said in its Energy Transition Outlook 2022, that fossil fuel production would be 50% of worldwide energies by 2050 and global temperature would rise by 2.2C – well above the 1.5C desired at the Paris Agreement, 2015.
The other bookend, by University of Manchester, projected that wealthy countries like USA, UK, Canada and Australia would have to end their oil and gas production by 2034 if the world is to stay below the Paris goal of 1.5C.
This article reveals the tension between energy security and the climate crisis, which has come to a head in 2022. This tension is explored in more detail in my book The Shale Controversy.
The Gray Nomad ….. The long term data of global extreme weather events is a tough challenge for climate scientists to interpret.
Therefore says the Lord to Jeremiah: If you return [and give up this mistaken tone of distrust and despair] then I will give you again a settled place of quiet and safety, and you will be my minister.”
[Book of Jeremiah, chapter 15.]