Saturday, September 2, 2017

Climate Obfuscator Roger Pielke Jr. Strikes Again With Misleading WSJ Piece

Hurricane Harvey looms off the coast of Texas, as seen from aboard the International Space Station.
Hurricane Harvey - merely an "overdue big One"?  So claims Roger Pielke Jr.

"Renowned Climate obfuscator" Roger Pielke Jr. (in the words of the science check website Skeptic Science), is at it again with his latest piece appearing in the WSJ :'The Hurricane Lull Couldn't Last', (Sept. 1, p. A15).  In it he merely used a probability argument to account for a hurricane like Harvey being "overdue" similar to one that I have myself applied to asteroid collisions, i.e..

Or, transferred to Pielke Jr.'s case (ibid.):

"Because the world has experienced a remarkable period of good fortune when it comes to catastrophes, we are due".

In other words Harvey's arrival was a statistical probability "after a remarkable 12 years without being hit by a hurricane of category 3 strength or stronger."

Pielke Jr. also dismissed more frequent  flood disasters in the U.S.,  e.g.

"Neither has there been an increase in floods, droughts and tornadoes...."

Despite the fact SAME WSJ  noted this morning (p. A14):

"The U.S. has seen 20 storms causing a billion dollars or more in damage since 2010, not including Harvey, compared with nine billion-dollar floods in the full decade of the 1980s."

Earlier (Aug. 30, p. A1) noting that "seven major storms have hit just since 2016 including October's Hurricane Matthew and February's California flooding."

So the Pielke Jr. take that major climate-related disasters are "getting less"  in the U.S. is already exposed as blatant bollocks. These sort of shallow arguments I will go on to explode citing several sources vastly more authoritative than this fake climate guy. Pielke Jr. goes on to babble:

"For many years, those seeking to justify carbon restrictions argued that hurricanes had become more common and intense. That hasn't happened. Scientific assessments, including those of the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change and the U.S. government's latest National Climate Assessment, indicate no long term increases in the frequency or intensity of hurricanes in the U.S.."

The actual facts are somewhat more complicated than Pielke Jr. portrays.  According to SciCheck, a division of

"The most recent analysis of what’s known about the effect of climate change on hurricane activity comes from the June 28 draft of the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Climate Science Special Report.  One of that report’s key findings said that human activities have “contributed to the observed increase in hurricane activity” in the North Atlantic Ocean since the 1970s. The Gulf of Mexico, where Harvey formed, is part of the North Atlantic Ocean.

The draft report echoes the findings of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2013 assessment report, which found that scientists are “virtually certain” (99 percent to 100 percent confident) that there has been an “increase in the frequency and intensity of the strongest tropical cyclones since the 1970s” in the North Atlantic Ocean."


"there is some uncertainty: The projections don’t yet align with the observed data on hurricanes because the data are “not of a high enough quality” to detect human contribution to the trend, the report says."

This is not at all surprising given that assessing human contributions to such a trend is effectively a stochastic analysis, not like one in celestial mechanics.  To nail the links down more securely we need more precise data on carbon depositions - as well as from other greenhouse gases such as methane. The sheer volume of such sources alone is staggering, encompassing the natural (e.g. melting permafrost in the Arctic) as well as the directly man-made (e.g. CO2 released from oil shale fracking operations).

What we DO know lies more in the way of ancillary thermal physics effects: for example, the planet is currently  subject to a radiative heating effect equivalent to 2.5 x 10 7  TJ injected each year into the atmosphere or roughly 400,000 Hiroshima size A-bombs.   This in turn conforms to the observed  addition of 2 ppm  per year  in CO2 concentrations and an associated heating increase per year of  2 W/ m2.    Result?  The temperature of the planet is currently out of balance by 0.6W/ m2  and this is almost entirely due to the annual rate of CO2 concentrations increasing. This is not due to any natural phenomenon but to human injection of carbon and other greenhouse gases into the planet's climate system.  

In other words, humans have - by fossil fuel activity -engendered a world with pronounced greenhouse dynamics.  The overall effect of such a greenhouse dynamic is warmer air which can hold more moisture. In addition, the warmer atmosphere causes evaporation to happen more rapidly. However, that alone doesn't explain the full role of the greenhouse effect on Hurricane Harvey.  Another consequence of greenhouse warming is that the oceans are absorbing CO2 and also becoming warmer- which in turn raises sea surface temperatures.

In effect, a large portion of Harvey's energy was fueled by very warm Gulf temperatures which rose to between 2.7 F and 7.2 F above average. Because of these high Gulf surface temperatures the original Tropic Storm Harvey progressed to a Cat 4 hurricane in barely 48 hours.

Climate scientist Michael Mann writing in the Guardian UK, invoked the well known  Clausius-Clapeyron equation  to ascertain that for every 0.5 C increase in warming there corresponds a  roughly 3% increase in average atmospheric moisture content.  For a climate 1 to 1.5C warmer than several decades ago this translates to an enhanced atmospheric moisture content of up to 9 percent. For Harvey, specifically, the sea surface temperatures were 0.5 - 1.0 C higher than current-day average temperatures, translating to 3- 5 % higher moisture content.   That in turn created the potential for the much greater rainfall in tandem with the effect of two subtropical highs which kept the storm in position an overly long time.  But again, this should not be confused with the intensity of the storm per se - tied to global warming - which was estimated yesterday at 1.2 inches of precipitation per hour for Houston.

Rice University climate scientist Jim Blackburn confirmed this connection and asserted that, in tandem with the destruction of nearby wetlands, the destruction wrought by Harvey was almost predicable - and "what all serious climate scientists have warned about". What about Roger Pielke Jr.? It appears he isn't a serious climate scientist at all but a climate science obfuscator along the lines of Willie Soon, e.g.

But Pielke Jr's antics precede him and have been pointed in details by Skeptic Science, one of the most useful resources - along with the site for exposing fake science and fake science news, as well as distorting, obfuscating op-eds like Roger Pielke Jr's.  

Pielke Jr. didn't come to more national prominence until cited by Nate Silver at his Five Thirty Eight blog, e.g.

wherein I noted "Pielke Jr. is no more a real climate scientist than I'm the pope."

I further cited one reviewer's take on Pielke Jr's book  The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won't Tell You About Global Warming:

Pielke Jr. is really astonishing in the way he almost completely denies the urgent need to mitigate climate change by greatly lowering global carbon emissions. He does it in a very slick way by masquerading as someone with real and different solutions, when in reality all he proposes is that society do next to nothing about burning fossil fuels.
He basically brushes aside climate change as if it were a trivial concern." 

Skeptic Science picks up on Nate Silver's Pielke attributions and notes, for example:

"Nate Silver has launched a new FiveThirtyEight blog with the intent of applying his data-driven approach to a wide variety of subjects.  The problem is that Nate Silver is himself only one man, so FiveThirtyEight has hired a variety of contributors to write about the subjects that are outside his expertise and comfort zone.  For the topic of climate change, Silver decided to hire the renowned obfuscator Roger Pielke, Jr.

This was immediately disappointing for those familiar with Pielke's work, because FiveThirtyEight is a statistics site, and frankly Pielke is not good at statistics.  Instead, Pielke is known for taking a selective view of the peer-reviewed scientific literature in order to downplay the connection between human-caused global warming and extreme weather.  Predictably, Pielke's first two posts at FiveThirtyEight did exactly that, and included a litany of errors:
  • The headline and main point of his post are wrong.
  • He misrepresents his own research.
  • The references he provides don't say what he claims and don't support his argument.
  • Research he neglects contradicts his conclusions.
  • He doesn't include all available data.
  • He incorrectly claims that weather-related disasters aren't becoming more frequent.
  • He fails to account for the costs of improved technology and the damages they prevent.
  • He considers only land-falling hurricanes whose damages are highly variable.
  • His conclusions are contradicted by the increased intensity of North Atlantic hurricanes, and global warming's contribution to their storm surges and flooding"
In other words, Nate Silver blew it in terms of his information source for climate change.   Other Pielke Jr.  hijinks include:

Pielke's first FiveThirtyEight post begins by plotting global disaster economic losses, from data provided by reinsurance company Munich Re.  Except for some reason Pielke only plots the data from 1990 to 2013, when Munich Re provides data beginning in 1980.

Munich Re disaster losses

 Most damning in terms of Pielke Jr's WSJ piece:

"The Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters also has natural disaster cost estimates ranging back to the year 1900.  And ironically, when Munich Re published its report, Pielke criticized them for only including data since 1980, saying,
"Thirty years is not an appropriate length of time for a climate analysis, much less finding causal factors like climate change"
Yet Pielke has dismissed climate change as a causal factor using data from just 1990. As it turns out, the positive trend in global disaster losses in the Munich Re data is almost 30 percent larger for 1980–2013 than it is for 1990–2013.  What's more, the trend in disaster losses for 1980–2013 is statistically significant at the 99 percent confidence level, whereas the trend for the 1990–2013 window cherry picked by Pielke is not statistically significant."

SO much for Roger Pielke Jr's. dishonest representations that natural disasters have not become more common and intense.   As Skeptic Science goes on to point out:

"To determine if weather disasters are becoming more frequent, you don't look at economic loss data.  Munich Re also provides data about the number of annual disasters, and the frequency of these events is indeed rising.  Pielke claims,
"When you read that the cost of disasters is increasing, it’s tempting to think that it must be because more storms are happening. They’re not."
They are unequivocally increasing as illustrated in the figures above and below.
Munich Re Disaster Frequency

Munich Re disagrees with Pielke on the answer to this third question, concluding following a study of "Severe Weather in North America" that (emphasis added),
"Among many other risk insights the study now provides new evidence for the emerging impact of climate change. For thunderstorm-related losses the analysis reveals increasing volatility and a significant long-term upward trend in the normalized figures over the last 40 years. These figures have been adjusted to account for factors such as increasing values, population growth and inflation ... In all likelihood, we have to regard this finding as an initial climate-change footprint in our US loss data from the last four decades."

Does Pielke Jr. deserve to have his work published? Of course!  But mainly in The National Enquirer and perhaps some graphic comics.

See also:


"Writer and activist Naomi Klein has long made the connection between disasters and economic opportunism. A key ingredient, she says, is a compliant media. “You turn on any coverage, and you hear that word over and over again, but what you don’t hear, or you hear very, very rarely, is an explanation for why the word ‘unprecedented,’ ‘record-breaking’ — why these words have become meteorological cliches,” she said on “Democracy Now!.” “We hear them all the time, because we’re breaking heat records year after year. We’re seeing record-breaking wildfires, record-breaking droughts, record-breaking storms, because the baseline is higher.”

Klein continued: “Nobody is saying that climate change caused this storm. What we’re talking about are what are the superchargers of this storm, the accelerants that took what would have been a disaster, in any situation, and turned it into this human catastrophe.”

That is a central tenet of climate science: You can’t attribute any given weather event to climate change, but human-induced climate change is making extreme weather events stronger and more frequent, more costly, more deadly. While the people in Texas and Louisiana suffer the final days of rain and begin recovery, over 1,200 people have been killed by massive floods in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. The planet is drowning in denial. Climate change is real, and needs to be addressed."

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