The past week or so has been rough on those trying, as the BBC might put it, to “sex up” the threat of climate change. Three examples stand out.
Paul Krugman Blames Egyptian Unrest on Climate Change
This has received a fair amount of attention and deserves to be highlighted again. On February 6, Krugman wrote:
But the evidence tells a different, much more ominous story. While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. And these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we’d expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate — which means that the current food price surge may be just the beginning.
The question is, have we seen a consistent rise in food prices and shortages as temperatures have increased over the last few decades? The clear answer is no.
Roger Pielke Jr., author of “The Climate Fix” — a book I highly recommend, posted this chart on his blog under the title “Krugman Loses Perspective.”
As temperatures have increased during the past few decades, food prices have steadily declined. Krugman is only looking at the last few years while ignoring the decades-long trend. When it comes to crop prices, this kind of cherry picking is very expensive when it is used to justify bad policy.
Al Gore Blames Blizzards on Global Warming
This also has been roundly mocked as unscientific. Frankly, such claims smack of desperation. Rather than admitting that not every weather pattern is a symptom of climate change, Gore makes an argument that is not only counter-intuitive but is simply unscientific. He claimed “scientists have been warning for at least two decades that global warming could make snowstorms more severe.”
In the past, of course, those looking to distort climate science to make political points dismissed severe storms as “weather” not “climate.” In February of 2010, just one year ago, skeptics were mocked for linking the snow and climate. An article on ABC noted:
Scientists, however, are quick to repudiate those comments, firing back that a few days, or even a few weeks, of inclement or cold weather in one part of the country does not disprove climate change — a phenomenon, they say, that affects the entire planet over the course of decades. “This conflation of weather and global climate is a classic ploy by skeptics,” said Mark Serreze, a professor at the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center.
Now, those same voices are saying the opposite — that snow storms are proof that climate change exists. Climate Progress now argues, “The scientific literature is clear that indeed global warming will cause more snow.”
What is the truth? Who can tell? It is hard to take seriously the claims of scientists who say one thing this year and the opposite the next, both times claiming their position is long-standing.
State of Washington Claims We’re Already Impacted by Climate Change
On Monday, the Washington State Department of Ecology released its proposals to cut carbon emissions, claiming “Washington is already feeling the impacts from increased concentrations of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere.” As with the snowstorms, which have missed Washington state, Ecology points to weather incidents to claim climate change is already occurring.
In the past, Washington elected officials have claimed that snow pack in the Cascade Mountains has already declined (which was shown to be false), that sea levels would rise by a meter (which they later changed) and that we are seeing more storms due to climate change.
University of Washington climate scientist Cliff Mass has addressed these claims in the past, writing in the Seattle Times, “As an environmental scientist, I am frustrated by the poor information distributed by public officials, the media and others regarding the current and predicted frequency of extreme weather events.” He went on to say:
How many times have you heard that severe windstorms and heavy rains will increase in the Northwest under global climate change? The truth is, there is no strong evidence for these claims and the whole matter is being actively researched. Some portions of the Northwest have had more rain and wind during the past decades, some less. And initial simulations of future Northwest climate do not suggest heavier rain events.
Nonetheless, Washington state politicians continue to make the claim to justify climate policies, citing these very events as evidence of climate change.
There are indications that increased atmospheric carbon can influence the amount of energy in the climate. But good policy requires good science, and this past week has revealed numerous examples of fitting the science to the policy rather than the other way round.