Global Warming Debate Game Changer? Could We Please Have a Government That Stops Playing Games?

On 16 June 2009, US President Barack Obama has released a report on Global Warming (See USG release here) that the Guardian.UK seems to have misconstrued as science. Adulation masquerading as journalism follows below.

The Obama administration unveiled the most authoritative report to date on the effects of global warming in America today in an effort to persuade the public of the need to act now to prevent the sweeping and life-altering consequences of global warming

Not everyone agrees with the Guardian’s breathless genuflection to the scientific brilliance of this new report. Meteorologist Joe D’Aleo, Atmospheric Scientist Stanley Goldenberg, Dr. Roger Pielke Jr, Dr David Deming, all have entered the public arena questioning the veracity of the report. The hiring of a noted San Francisco area public relations firm, Resource Media, with Federal money, to produce the public release also raised hackles. Therein lies a tale central to the conduct of Mr. Obama’s administration.

To understand the contempt for the public behind this entire exercise, examine how NOAA Director Jane Lubchenco describes the report.

“I really believe this report is a game changer. I think that much of the foot-dragging in addressing climate change is a reflection of the perception that climate change is way down the road in the future and it affects only remote parts of the world,” she told a press conference today. “This report says climate change is happening now. It is happening in our own back yard.”

In one of the more controversial sections of the report, the scientists make the claim that anthropogenic global warming has caused augmented losses in real property by causing more intense hurricanes. Obviously, the dollar values of the losses from hurricane damage in the 1990’s and 2000’s greatly exceed the damages reported in the 1980’s. Assuming a 2.5% differential between real estate valuations and economy-wide inflation, the real estate near New Orleans should have grown in value at twice the rate of the economy between 1980 and Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. However, the Obama administration report offers the following analysis.

While economic and demographic factors have no doubt contributed to observed increases in losses,346 these factors do not fully explain the upward trend in costs or numbers of events. 344,347. Reference 346 is to a paper I co-authored: Pielke, Jr., R. A., Gratz, J., Landsea, C. W., Collins, D., Saunders, M., and Musulin, R., 2008. Normalized Hurricane Damages in the United States: 1900-2005. Natural Hazards Review, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp. 29-42. (PDF)

Roger Pielke, Jr., First Author of the study referenced above, contests that characterization of his work. He, in fact, comments that his research has basically argues in apposition to what the government panel reports that it said.

In that paper we did indeed conclude that economic and demographic factors have contributed to losses related to hurricanes. In fact, we concluded that these factors accounted for all of the increase in hurricane losses over the period of record: The lack of trend in twentieth century normalized hurricane losses is consistent with what one would expect to find given the lack of trends in hurricane frequency or intensity at landfall.

The administration attempts to graphically bolster their claim. They make the following statement in support of their description of conclusions to be drawn from Pielke et al.

For example, during the time period covered in the figure to the right, population increased by a factor of 1.3 while losses increased by a factor of 15 to 20 in inflation-corrected dollars.

According to Pielke, the graphic includes damages from 9-11, and at least 1 major earthquake. This astounds me. I was unaware that Global Warming had a hand in causing earthquakes and religion-enhanced, man-made disasters.

The figure also only normalizes for economy-wide, not sector-specific inflation. Had the figure been drafted 1 year later, it would have included Hurricane Katrina. This disaster hit New Orleans at the apex of the greatest real-estate boom in recent American History. If you manage funds for State Farm or Nationwide, Katrina could not have hit land at a worse time.

To further reduce this conclusion to the condign absurdity it deserves, imagine the financial impact of Katrina in 2009, after the real estate bubble had collapsed. Does Katrina become less of a problem now, than in 2005, because the property it deluges held less perceived economic value, due to exogenous economic conditions? That’s the implicit argument that the Obama chart would make, if we extended the x-axis until the present, and moved the real estate damages associated with Katrina back and forth by a couple of years.

Thus, the catastrophic damage totals from that particular storm will skew the graph for reasons unrelated to the purported factors under investigation. But what about the science that this particular graph so blatantly neglects? Pielke, Jr. offers the following explanation.

1. Over the long-term U.S. hurricane landfalls have been declining.
2. Nationwide there have been no long-term increases in drought.
3. Despite increases in some measures of precipitation (pp. 46-50, pp. 130-131), there have not been corresponding increases in peak streamflows (high flows above 90th percentile).
4. There have been no observed changes in the occurrence of tornadoes or thunderstorms
5. There have been no long-term increases in strong East Coast winter storms (ECWS), called Nor’easters.
6. There are no long-term trends in either heat waves or cold spells, though there are trends within shorter time periods in the overall record.

So aside from the real-estate bubble, no over-riding trend explains the hockey-stick pattern extant in the government chart of hurricane damages. Thus, metrics such as annual percentage of ocean-front property destroyed by hurricanes, would no doubt tell the opposition story as the misleading picture.

So we’re left to conclude that the entire report is more intended to be a game-changer, not a scientific document. This detestable practice should enrage the American public. We aren’t playing a game here.

At least it won’t seem that way to the drivers and producers who will have to pony up at the pump when the cost of these proposed carbon credits is passed through to the consumer. Let’s can the PR firms and the deliberately misleading graphs.

Go back to first principles and prove Anthropagenic Global Warming is in fact creating more hurricanes, or quit citing the erroneous statistics. If this can’t proven, The Waxman Bill should be stricken from the House Calendar. NOAA should stop playing games with America’s economic future. Putting adults in charge would genuinely be a game-changer.