Climate Change, The Philippines and The Problem of Pain

There is no strong correlation between temperature and hurricane frequency.
There is no strong correlation between temperature and hurricane frequency.

“Science tells us that simply, climate change will mean more intense tropical storms,” he wrote in an article published in The Guardian on Tuesday. “As the Earth warms up, that would include the oceans. The energy that is stored in the waters off the Philippines will increase the intensity of typhoons and the trend we now see is that more destructive storms will be the new norm.”

(Naderev “Yeb” Sano, representative for the Philippinesat the UN Climate Change talks.)

Let everyone’s prayers go out to Naderev Sano. His hometown got hit by Typhoon Haiyan and the result was truly a humanitarian disaster. In response to this massive evil that befell the place he lives, Mr. Sano logically searches for answers. In so doing, he runs into one of theology’s most puzzling dilemmas: The Problem of Pain.

So if God is so good, why then does the rain fall on both the righteous and the wicked? How can innocent people be struck with Typhoon Haiyan? Clearly this is unjust and horrible. An immediately logical response is to claim that it can’t be the work of a loving God. The next step afterwards is to them figure out where it came from. Once you’ve accepted the existence of evil, the devil pops up in your inbox soon thereafter. In Sano’s case, he has identified this devil to be Climate Change driven by modern industrial society.

Bad theology and inaccurate science can both lead to adverse, sub-optimal consequences. Decisions made in grief-laden haste are often the most wrong ones we make. The unfortunate error Sano commits is to lapse into Scientism. He does so in believing that a set of scientific data gives a logical explanation to life’s tragedies that offers him a systematic plan of action that will outlaw the repetition of bad things. Sadly for Sano, and for anyone that accepts his heartfelt and emotional appeal, his thesis is not strongly supported by real-world data.

Examining trends in hurricanes and temperatures over the 20th Century suggests that very little correspondence between Cat 5 Tropical Hurricanes and Temperature exists in real-world data. Though a scatter plot of decadal temperature average vs decadal Cat 5 Hurricane count has a positive trend line, the R2= 0.1905. In other words, the temperatures experienced over the past nine decades explain less than 20% of the variability in Cat 5 Hurricanes physically observed. Very few fields of knowledge would consider a 20% correlation as validly explicative of a scientific phenomenon.

Furthermore, according to hurricane experts, 2013 was suppossed to be a bruiser. It hasn’t. Only 2 hurricanes have hit the Atlantic Region and neither made landfall. This is compared to a predicted 13-20 named storms and 11 hurricanes according to the NWS. Again, the observed reality has not been informed that the science on AGW has been settled.

It reminds me of a similar incidence of scientism after tornadoes killed hundreds of people in the State of Alabama. Several media figures immediately told us that Climate Change undoubtedly caused the rash of strong tornadoes. Dr. Roy Spencer of UAH examined the phenomenon of F3 to F5 Tornado outbreaks and found that no positive correlation could be found between tornadoes and temperatures. This led Dr. Spencer to an important overall conclusion regarding the impact of climate change on major weather events. He told Al.com the following:”

“there is little or no observational evidence that severe weather of any type has worsened over the last 30, 50, or 100 years.”

Tornado frequency  doesn't correlate with temperature either
Tornado frequency doesn’t correlate with temperature either

Comparing NOAA Temperature data to F2-F5 tornado counts from the NWS for the Southeastern US leads me to more or less corroborate Dr. Spencer’s result. A trend suggesting that tornadoes are negatively correlated with increasing temperature can be established from the data. However, this trend only has about a 0.2 R2. I guess I can’t sell anyone on CO2 pollution as a way to make tornadoes go away.

But that brings me back to the gravamen of the piece. There is no specific scientific or theological explanation for The Problem of Pain. I empathize with Naderev “Yeb” Sano. After the Tornadoes hit Alabama in April 2011, I had no electricity for a week and 20 miles away from my house rescue crews were digging corpses out of a flattened housing development. Evil like this makes any thinking human being search for answers. Sadly none better exist than what is offered in verses 4 and 5 of Book I Ecclesiastes.