Fact, Fiction, and Friction in the Hurricane Debate

Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt

Judith Curry and colleagues have an interesting (and possibly provocative) article, “Mixing Politics and Science in Testing the Hypothesis That Greenhouse Warming Is Causing a Global Increase in Hurricane Intensity” in the latest issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS). The article provides a solid review of the recent developments in the science focusing on potential climate change impacts on tropical cyclones. However, the article is more novel in its approach than the typical scientific review article. For instance, it attempts to deal with the issue of how one should test hypotheses that reflect a complex causal chain of individual hypotheses. This is of course relevant to investigations of climate change influences on tropical cyclone activity, where one is attempting to connect a phenomenon (climate change) that is global in spatial scale and multidecadal in timescale, to a phenomena that is intrinsically “mesoscale” (that is, spans at most hundreds of kilometers) in space and lasts only a few days.

More unusually, the article also takes an introspective look at the role of scientists in communicating societally-relevant science to the public, and provides a critical review of how the science dealing with climate change impacts on tropical cyclones and hurricanes has been reported in the media, and how that reporting has occasionally deepened the polarisation on the issue. In doing so, the article revisits some of the “false objectivity” problems we have talked about before (see here and here). They also assess fairly the quality of the arguments that have been made in response to the Emanuel (2005) and Webster et al (2005) papers in the hope of focussing discussion on the more valid points, rather than some of the more fallacious arguments. The article is unapologetic in advancing their particular point of view, and while we generally share it, we imagine that some readers may disagree. We hope, as we suspect the authors do as well, that it will in any case generate a productive discussion.

243 comments on this post.
  1. Russ Hayley:

    If it is true that we have only got a limited amount of fossil fuels to last us, say, 50 years, before we have to go completely renewable, and the sea levels are only increasing a 1mm a year, and in the last 100 years we have seen a rise in sea levels, then what is all the fuss about?

  2. Wacki:

    Re #1 Ray Hayley,

    6 years ago oil was at $10 a barrel. now they are at $80.


    The price will continue to rise. As price goes up we will see dirtier and dirtier fuels being used. Unless we start heavily investing in alternative energy now (which we aren’t) then the worlds economy and environment will go through some pretty radical changes.

  3. bender:

    In Curry et al.’s Fig 1. the trends are so obvious that no statistics are required to convince a skeptic of their significance. But the observations are for 5-year windows. Taking a moving average will tend to exaggerate a trend by reducing interannual noise. If they had presented annual observations, how much would that have fuzzed up the trends? How much would it have compromised the statistics? Their argument 1 on p. 1028 is fine … as long as the uncertainty surrounding the statistics is taken out of the picture. Why did the authors choose to eliminate the uncertainty by using a 5-year window? Because it simplified a story intended for a lay audience? Is this a simplification, or an oversimplification?

    “Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves.” – Richard Feynamn

  4. Dan:

    The Feynman quote at the beginning of the BAMS article is a true classic. It is an excellent paper and I urge people to read it.

    My concern focuses on the author’s interest in generating a “productive discussion”. Scientifically that is to be applauded. However, politically, that is just the sort of thing certain elements (political and otherwise) absolutely love to misinterpret as “proof” that the science is uncertain and “we don’t know yet”. I can hear it now: “Heck, even the scientists are still discussing it; therefore it needs more study, not action.” Yes, that is a gross, erroneous oversimplication but that is exactly how many denialists/skeptics will view that phrase. The sort of thing Inhofe and his ilk will use, taken completely out of context of course.

  5. Wacki:

    Re #3

    “If they had presented annual observations, how much would that have fuzzed up the trends? ”

    1886 was the busiest on record for the continental United States.

    I think table 1 was far more convincing of than figure 1. However, table 1 didn’t include data from the very busy 1890’s. I’m sure sampling was a problem but from my quick skim of the article I didn’t see anything that properly addressed that decade. I will give this article more time after work.

  6. Doug Watts:

    I’ve long thought it unproductive for anyone to attempt to attribute the 2005 hurricane season to climate change. Short-term trends like one bad hurricane season are far too noisy to make any credible cause-effect link, even if a link may in fact exist. This reminds me of people in the early 1990s who said that destruction of the Amazon should be opposed because of the potential for life-saving drugs coming from plants in the Amazon. Obviously that is true, but it simplified the entire issue down to a ridiculously narrow contex which created a perverse blow-back: that if we can easily synthesize drugs in the laboratory then nothing is lost if the Amazon is destroyed.

  7. bender:

    Dan, is the science not uncertain? Are the uncertainties not downplayed for the purpose of keeping a complicated story simple, and manufacturing consent among policy-makers and the public? If so, would you be ok with that? Or would you prefer your policy-makers to take a bolder stance and declare drastic action is needed *despite* the uncertainties?

  8. Dan:

    There are various degrees of uncertainty in all science. The key concept here is that it is not as uncertain as the Inhofes et al of the world would like to think. And they portray uncertainty erroneously just to confuse the matter, not based on scientifically valid reasons. Scientific uncertainty within reason is no reason to continue to stall and further obfuscate, especially when there are things that can be done now that are not “drastic” at all. (There is a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms tomorrow. Do you not take appropriate preparatory action if you have outside activities planned?)

  9. Alastair McDonald:

    One of the fallacies that Curry et al. list is the fallacy of distribution which “occurs when an argument assumes that what is true of the members is true of the class (composition), or what is true of the class is true of its members (division).” It seems to me that scientists have been commiting a similar fallacy for several years now.

    They have been saying that you cannot prove that global warming is causing more hurricanes because that is the fallacy of Hasty Generalisation(not enough evidence.) But they have also argued that about the increase in forest fires, and melting glaciers, etc. By arguing that each member does not provide enough evidence, they are missing the point that when the evidence is added together it is true for the class.

    In other words, although increased hurricanes on their own do not prove antrhopogenic global warming (AGW) is happening, when you include forest fires, melting glaciers etc. then it is obvious that it is happening. Since it is happening, then it logically follows that it must be causiing more hurricanes, forest fires, melting glaciers etc. We don’t really need the temperature record to prove AGW! The symptoms are all there. What walks like a duck and quacks like a duck is a duck!

    By concentrating on indivdual events, like Katrina, or even classes like hurricanes, then claiming there is no proof, they are committing the fallacy of distribution. To avoid it you must consider the super class.

  10. Wacki:

    “Obviously that is true, but it simplified the entire issue down to a ridiculously narrow contex which created a perverse blow-back: that if we can easily synthesize drugs in the laboratory then nothing is lost if the Amazon is destroyed.”

    Drugs are what I do for a living. Destroying this planets diverse ecosystem would be a tremendous blow to the DISCOVERY of new medicines. Whether or now we can synthesize them in a lab is irrelevant.

  11. ike solem:

    This article fails to discuss what could be called “logical inconsistency in arguments” relating to the datasets that are used to define the ‘Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation signal’ and related effects on hurricane intenstity and frequency. There seem to be several mutually contradictory statements made by climate research skeptics who focus on hurricane activity.

    From the paper:

    “The North Atlantic hurricanes deserve special discussion in light of the relatively long historical record of hurricanes. There is no question that natural internal variability is associated with variations in North Atlantic hurricane frequency and intensity. The Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO; Delworth and Mann 2000; Knight et al. 2005; Kerr 2005) is of particular relevance to the central hypothesis because:

    -the AMO has a period nominally of 70 years (Knight et al. 2005);

    -the AMO is reflected strongly in the tropical SSTs of the North Atlantic (Delworth and Mann 2000) – in fact, the North Atlantic SST is used to define the periods of the AMO;

    -and data on the frequency of North Atlantic tropical storms going back to 1851 show strong minima of hurricane activity in the periods centered around 1850, 1915, and 1980 and maxima centered around 1875, 1950, and at the end of the time series (Elsner et al. 1999) – these variations are approximately in phase with the AMO (Knight et al. 2005).”

    Basically, the problem is this: The AMO/NAO is based on records going back some 150+ years and yet has a 70 year period. This is a very scanty dataset for extracting such a signal, as previous realclimate commentators with time series analysis experience have pointed out. How good is SST data from 1850 anyway? The El Nino signal is far more robust and the author’s allusion that the AMO and EL Nino are equally well-supported is just not true, in my humble opinion.

    Furthermore, the AMO is based on SST’s, and yet the denialists claim that the SST-hurricane link is not very robust when it suits their purposes – yet it is robust enough to state that the AMO determines Atlantic hurricane frequency and intensity? Hello? Landsea et. al have attacked the hurricane intensity data collected since the 70’s on the basis that wind speeds were underestimated in the past, and the article above includes the issue of poor data in the 70’s and 80’s -and yet Landsea et. al are big proponents of the AMO cycle – hurricane link – so are they saying that the data was somehow better back in 1850 and 1915? If this isn’t a logical inconsistency, what is it? (I also have yet to see any of the climate skeptics call for increased funding for satellite and ocean data collection). If someone can point out where I’ve gone wrong, please let me know.

    I’d be very interested in seeing a climate researcher explain the basis of the AMO in detail to non-experts in the field, particularly since major media networks relied so heavily on the AMO explanation of last year’s hurricane season; at the height of Katrina CNN was displaying graphics explaining how it was all just ‘the natural variability of the NAO’ – with absolutly no discussion of global warming included. That goes beyond “equal debate”; I’d say it was more like outright distortion.

    In addition the focus on the Atlantic hurricane issues is also biased; I think only ~10% of global hurricanes form in the Atlantic basin. Many dissipate out over the Pacific where no damage occurs, but look at these recent reports from the western Pacific:

    Guardian UK on China typhoon
    South Africa Business Day on China Typhoon

    For some reason, just about all US media outlets (Bloomberg excepted) view the ‘biggest typhoon to hit China in 50 years” as not being a newsworthy item. Doesn’t that seem just a little odd?

    The article ends with an discussion referencing Thomas Friedman, intellectual commons, public communication strategies and the like. I’d suggest reading David C. Korten’s “When Corporations Rule the World” as an interesting counterpoint to Friedman’s “The World is Flat”. If the authors are going to plunge into a discussion of economics at the end of an article on hurricanes they have a responsibility to cover all viewpoints, just like journalists do.

    I just want to end my rather long post with a discussion of DNA and heredity (bear with me). A very hot and controversial topic in genetics right now is ‘extra-genetic elements of inheritance’ – these are based on recent reports of inheritance that apparently bypasses the DNA genome – perhaps a protein signal – perhaps an artifact. However, this kind of controversy doesn’t mean that the last 50 years of molecular DNA research is suspect – but that’s the kind of argument the climate skeptics are making every time some confusing new data pops up.

  12. bender:

    Dan, how do you measure the Inhofe’s uncertainty, how do you know the actual uncertainty, and how do you make the comparison? Or again, is it just gut instinct?

    To answer your question: cost factors into the analysis just as benefit does. I would carry an umbrella – but I wouldn’t go build a bomb shelter. The remedial action has to suit the risk. The case you have to make is that the policy options on the table are going to be as effective as my umbrella, and not as costly as my bomb shelter.

  13. SecularAnimist:

    Doug Watts in #6 wrote: “I’ve long thought it unproductive for anyone to attempt to attribute the 2005 hurricane season to climate change.”

    Just as it would be “unproductive” to attribute the death of an individual life-long tobacco smoker from lung cancer to their tobacco smoking, since after all, some people smoke tobacco all their lives and don’t get cancer, while others die of lung cancer who have never smoked tobacco.

    This is the argument that the tobacco industry used for decades to keep people confused about the link between tobacco smoking and lung cancer (and to keep smokers smoking), and it is the argument that the fossil fuel industry continues to use, and will use as long as they can get away with it, to keep people confused about the link between anthropogenic global warming and extreme weather events (and to keep them burning fossil fuels).

    No, you cannot say “this particular hurricane occurred at this particular time in this particular place with these precise characteristics because of global warming”. What you can say is that global warming is producing the conditions that will make larger, more powerful, longer-lasting hurricanes increasingly frequent and that we can already observe this is happening. In that respect the 2005 hurricane season, and specifically hurricane Katrina, are “linked to” anthropogenic global warming.

  14. ike solem:

    RE#1, Hi Russ, the US actually has enough coal to meet the US energy needs for the next 250 years; oil is a different story. The major use of coal is the produce electricity in the US; I think ~80% of electric generation in this country is coal-fired. So – if nothing changes (except the climate), look forward to electric cars and trains (and boats) for all. We are the Saudi Arabia of coal, and while we may feel inclined to go after the coal industry as a great climate culprit, the fact is that most of the web and the posts on this site are also coal-fired. We are all guilty.

    Amory Levins has estimated that by the time coal is mined, transported, burned, pumped over the wire, and used to light an incandescent light bulb, only 3% of the initial energy is available to the light bulb; 97% is wasted.

    There is an excellent recent fair-minded book on coal; see a review here:
    Big Coal, by Jeff Goodall.

  15. Dan:

    That’s just it about Inhofe: Despite having no scientific background he has no uncertainty at all. As is clear per his comments (“global warming hoax”, ad nauseum). That is not my “gut instinct”, just a statement of fact per Inhofe’s statements. An anti-science demagogue compared to peer-reviewed science – there really is no logical comparison to be made.

    The uncertainties of global climate modeling have been addressed here on RealClimate.org recently by commenters and the web host so I will not rehash that re: model resolution, etc. Issues of cost have also been discussed at length. The risks have been clearly identified as well.

    Which “umbrella” would you choose to remediate the risks?

  16. Gene Hawkridge:

    Although it is true that proven petroleum reserves are declining, the probability that large additional reserves that are not yet known is high. Therefore, one can predict that there is a lot more than 50 years of petroleum to be extracted.

    As oil prices increase, the incentive to covert tar sands, coal, and shale to gasoline is also increasing. This will add enormously to the potential use of fossil fuels.

    In other words, there remains plenty to worry about with respect to greenhouse gas emissions. However, all efforts by politicians to control oil prices should be resisted: artificially low prices do not send the right market signal to consumers.

  17. Hank Roberts:

    #1, Russ
    You make a very common error — you think if we change the rate of burning fossil fuel, a change in the rate of climate change happens right away. This is error, and worth understanding. If you need help searching for the information, post a request, someone knowledgeable will reply.

  18. wayne davidson:

    Right! I am still digesting this paper, An article very similar in meaning to Feynman’s quote at the outset. But I am first of all curious about the AMS, being an avid listenner of TV meteorlogists, who 95% of the time reject the faint possibility of AGW, is it unusual for the AMS to carry a paper which acknowledges that there is such a thing as AGW? Aside from that, the paper has strong points, but hesitates to make simple links. There are no hurricanes born over cold water, therefore, a much warmer ocean will expand the range, intensity and frequency of hurricanes. whether or not 10 more years of study is needed is largely academic. But they are correct in saying that hurricanes are not the best sign of AGW, case in point this years hurricane predictions, all falling flat, due to colder tropical ocean, along with 1997 pre El-Nino conditions. A better indicator of AGW would be to measure the absoute temperature of the atmosphere at key Global locations, anyone keen on that?

  19. Dan Hughes:

    Will someone kindly define ‘the fossil fuel industry’ and quantify its emissions of CO2 on a yearly basis. The emissions of the coal segment is of special interest because the US has so much.

    I’m certain that you’ll find that the industries that use fossil fuels to produce products and services that are demanded by everyone have very significantly higher emissions.

    Big Oil and Big Coal are not the problem. The demand for products and services that require the resources provided by these industries are the problem.

    Demand is the problem. Supply is not the problem. If you use electricity, transportation, paper, computers you are part of the demand. If you use any human-made product or service at all, you are part of the demand.

    If you don’t want to be part of the problem, go throw the mains switch on your electric panel, shut off other fuel supplies to your house, don’t use transportation, don’t eat food. Don’t do anything at all.

  20. Pat Neuman:

    RC … Please use my photos URI instead of the one sent in a message a couple minutes ago.

    At globalchange (re: Pat Michaels may be in a lot of trouble, message 11), I said that … climate change has not been a politicized field of study. The studies and research work by thousands of scientists on climate change have not been in disagreement. Politicization has been from non scientists. …

    Was I right about that?

  21. SecularAnimist:

    Dan Hughes wrote in #19: “Big Oil and Big Coal are not the problem. The demand for products and services that require the resources provided by these industries are the problem.”

    The “problem” with “Big Oil” and “Big Coal” is that they are profiting almost beyond conception from the growing demand for their products, and they thus have a strong incentive for wanting that demand to remain high and indeed continue to grow. They certainly don’t want the demand for their products — and consequently their profits — to be reduced by a large-scale, rapid move away from burning fossil fuels and towards climate-friendly renewables like wind and solar generated electricity. That’s why they have poured big bucks into funding a disinformation campaign to keep the public confused about the reality of anthropogenic global warming, so that the voters won’t demand governments implement policies to help bring about that transition.

    Dan Hughes: If you don’t want to be part of the problem, go throw the mains switch on your electric panel, shut off other fuel supplies to your house, don’t use transportation, don’t eat food. Don’t do anything at all.

    If you want to reduce your contribution to the problem, as a consumer, you could buy wind-generated electricity, as I do through my local utility. Then replace your natural gas fired appliances with electric appliances, as I plan to do this fall. At that point you are no longer relying on any fossil fuels for your residential heating, cooling, refrigeration, etc. If you have a sunny roof, then install photovoltaic panels and you can produce clean electricity yourself and sell the excess back to the utility (in most states). I hope to do this this fall as well, as part of the conversion of my HVAC and other appliances from gas to electric.

    I already grow some of my own food in my backyard organic garden, and buy the rest from local organic farmers (both local production and organic methods reduce the fossil fuel inputs and CO2 emissions associated with food production). I also eat a 100% vegan diet, which at least one study has shown reduces the CO2 emissions associated with food production compared to the standard American diet by an amount comparable to the difference between driving a compact car and driving an SUV.

    I already drive a 15-year-old Ford Festiva that gets nearly 40mpg in city driving and nearly 50mpg on the highway, comparable to today’s expensive hybrid cars, and I keep my driving to a minimum. I won’t buy another fossil fuel-powered car; I’ll drive the Festiva as long as I can keep it on the road and by the time it won’t run anymore pluggable hybrids that can run as pure electric cars (in my case powered by wind and/or photovoltaics) most of the time, with flex-fuel engines that can burn biofuels instead of gasoline or petro-diesel for long trips, should be available.

    I’m not claiming to be a paragon of virtue, merely pointing out that there is a whole lot that individuals can do to reduce their own demand for fossil fuels, besides, as you suggest, “nothing”.

  22. Wacki:

    “Demand is the problem. Supply is not the problem. If you use electricity, transportation, paper, computers you are part of the demand. If you use any human-made product or service at all, you are part of the demand.

    If you don’t want to be part of the problem, go throw the mains switch on your electric panel, shut off other fuel supplies to your house, don’t use transportation, don’t eat food. Don’t do anything at all. ”

    Let me guess….. anarchocapitalist?

  23. Harold Brooks:

    I must admit I’m a little disappointed in the discussion of Table 1 in the Curry et al. paper. They don’t discuss the data quality issue for the 1945-1955 era at al. From HURDAT, the number of US landfalling hurricanes is the same in both periods (26) and the number of category-3 or greater US landfalling hurricanes is the same (10). As a result, in the 1995-2005 record, 40% of all North Atlantic hurricanes reached category 3 status (45 of 112). 55% (41 of 74) did so in 1945-1955. If we break it down by US landfall vs. non US landfall, we get

    1945-1955 (US) 10 of 26 hurricanes were major (38%)
    1945-1955 (Non-US) 31 of 48 (65%)

    1995-2005 (US) 10 of 26 (38%)
    1995-2005 (Non-US) 35 of 86 (41%)

    Now, it’s possible that hurricanes away from the US became less likely to reach Cat 3 or higher in the last decade compared to the period 50 years before, but that seems unlikely to me, at least, and I think would be inconsistent with the Webster et al. work.

    There is a large change in the location of identified “things” in HURDAT between the two periods. Looking at the first time something is identified in HURDAT, there are only 20 tropical entities identified east of 50 W that move west to at least 60 W in the 1945-1955 period and 5 that never move west of 60 W. In contrast, there are 35 and 20, respectively, in 1995-2005. In total, there were 30 more features in the eastern part of the tropical Atlantic. It’s possible that there’s a physical change, but the data quality concerns should have been addressed.

    I don’t find Curry et al.’s final bullet point on p. 1032 convincing at all. A lot of the difference has to do with the observational capabilities.

  24. bender:

    “by the time it [Ford Festiva] won’t run anymore pluggable hybrids that can run as pure electric cars … should be available”

    Assuming your economy is intact, you still have a job, you can afford the new technology, etc.

  25. SecularAnimist:

    bender wrote: Assuming your economy is intact, you still have a job, you can afford the new technology, etc.

    Well the first two are anyone’s guess. As to the cost of electric car technology, I think that hybrid cars (pluggable or not) are expensive because they are so complex. On the other hand, a purely electric car should be inexpensive because of its extreme simplicity: a battery that powers an electric motor (which has ONE moving part, as opposed to hundreds of moving parts in an internal combustion engine, and even more in a dual-drive-train hybrid) and related control electronics.

    In fact, if electric cars were designed along the lines of personal computers, with an industry-standard architecture and swappable, upgradeable components using standardized form factors and interfaces, the automobile industry might be revolutionized the same way the original IBM PC revolutionized the computer industry.

    If you recall, the IBM PC spawned a whole industry of clones and third-party manufacturers of hard drives, video cards, memory chips, motherboards etc which were all interchangeable because IBM designed the original using a standardized open architecture and off-the-shelf components. That caused IBM to lose control of the personal computer industry but at the same time it created the industry that can now deliver 3Ghz personal computers with gigabytes of RAM and terabytes of disk storage for far less than the original, primitive PCs cost.

    I think the same thing could happen with electric cars. They would become commodities, like the personal computer: cheap and upgradeable as new technology is developed, with various manufacturers building the cars themselves with industry-standardized form-factor “bays” for motors, batteries, etc. with other companies specializing in manufacturing high-performance aftermarket/upgrade motors and batteries with industry-standard form-factors and interfaces. If someone develops a more efficient electric motor, you can swap your old one out for an upgrade; if someone develops a better battery, you can swap your old one out for an upgrade; etc. In this way you can increase the range and performance of the car without having to replace it.

    I know this is far off-topic not only for this thread but for a site that is about climate science. On the other hand, I have noticed that very often the comments on RealClimate discussion threads seem to veer off-topic into discussions of solutions to the problem of CO2 emissions, and I think that’s a positive thing. It’s something that we all should be thinking about, all the time.

  26. Eduardo:

    1) Basically, AGW hypothesis states that increasing CO2 causes global warming.
    2) CO2 levels have been rising steadily.
    3) Temperature must rise accordingly.
    4) As this causes an increase in hurricane frequency and strength,
    5) This hurricane season should have at least 11 hurricanes in the Atlantic/Caribbean by this date.
    6) There have already been only 3 -and mere tropcal depression and storms. Where are the other 8?
    7) Into which fallacy is this observational reasoning classified?

  27. Wacki:

    The following is from curry’s house reform testimony
    – The influence of global warming deniers, consisting of a small group of scientists plus others that are motivated to deny global warming owing to the implications associated with any policy to control greenhouse gas emissions
    – The tendency of a large number of forecast meteorologists (including TV meteorologists) to deny global warming and in particular the possibility of a link between increasing hurricane intensity and global warming
    – The public statements by NOAA administrators and National Weather Service scientists that neglect the published research and deny a link between hurricanes and global warming

    This information being disseminated by NOAA is misleading, incomplete and one-sided, and does not accurately reflect the state of knowledge as reflected in the published scientific literature.

    OK, what could possibly be NOAA’s motivation for doing this? And why are meteorologists denying global warming? I thought this topic was beyond debate in the scientific community.

  28. bender:

    If you (or Dan) want to stay on-topic, why not reply to #3?

  29. Dan Hughes:

    SecularAnimist wrote, “The “problem” with “Big Oil” and “Big Coal” is that they are profiting almost beyond conception from the growing demand for their products, and they thus have a strong incentive for wanting that demand to remain high and indeed continue to grow.”

    Do you know the rate of return on the gross income of Big Oil and Big Coal? The recent news about ExxonMobile’s quartely profit made enormous headlines almost everywhere. But, nobody reported the rate of return; 10.4615% of sales. I’m certain that no one reading this would call that “profiting almost beyond conception” if it was the return on their personal investments.

    Do you know the real-world generating capacity factor for, say, wind farms? It runs at less than 25%. That means that there must be very significant base-loaded installed generating capacity. Some have estimated that significant reliance on wind will result in insignificant changes in the installed base-load capacity. In the absence of fission-powered generating capacity, the base-loading will be powered by fossil fuels.

    Do you know that burning fossil fuels to make electricity to charge electric batterys to power personal transportation results in more, not less, CO2 emissions into the atmosphere than buring fossil fuels directly in the transportation.

    Do you know that small private companies generally have higher rates of profits than large companies. Take Microsoft, Apple, BMW, for examples. Smaller companies also represent significnatly fewer headaches for the managers, at the same time making greater rates of returns.

    Which is more obscene, a higher rate of return or a large number for the return?

    As someone once said, “”Those who refuse to do arithmetic are doomed to failure.”

  30. Steve Sadlov:

    RE: #26 – Got Shannon? Got aliasing … or is it, anti aliasing? ;)

  31. Gar Lipow:

    >This hurricane season should have at least 11 hurricanes in the Atlantic/Caribbean by this date.

    In this case not a fallacy. False premise. Also conflation of trend with data point. (That is on average we will have more hurricanes. Not that same thing as “every single year we will have more hurricanes”. Hmm maybe that is a fallacy.)

  32. Gar Lipow:

    >The recent news about ExxonMobile’s quartely profit made enormous headlines almost everywhere. But, nobody reported the rate of return; 10.4615% of sales.

    Rate of return is not profit as a percent of sales, but profit as a return to capital investment. Basic financial accounting. Oil companies right now are making a whole lot more than 10% as a return to capital.

    Exxon’s return to capital in 2005 was 31%.

    Lastly in terms of renewable sources – you solve dispatchability problems by mixing wind, solar thermal electricty (with molten salt storage), hydro, geothermal. Thus by mixing dispatchable and non-dispatchable sources you end up with a fully dispatchable mix

  33. Eli Rabett:

    For # 19 CO2 emission data central. Click through to the actual data tables for detailed information on emissions in each area.

  34. Dan:

    re: 28. Your failure to reply to my “which umbrella?” question is noted. My original post (#4), which you replied to, was not in response to #3. It concerned “productive discussion” and the interpretation of “uncertainty” with respect to the BAMS article. In case you had not noticed, that is specifically “on-topic”. Therefore do not accuse me of being “off-topic”.

    BTW, your questions/strawmen, such as they are, can be readily submitted to the paper’s authors via email, or perhaps better still, as a comment to the article itself in the peer-reviewed BAMS…assuming they are on-topic.

  35. Eduardo:

    What about this study of 1997 -from AOML/NOAA?

    Intradecadal Variations in Atlantic Hurricane Activity

    Strategic Element: Decadal to Centennial Change

    Principal Investigator: Chris W. Landsea

    Objective: Basic physical understanding and forecasts of seasonal to multidecadal tropical cyclone activity. Climatological atmospheric and oceanic conditions. Economic and societal impact.

    Narrative: The North Atlantic is the only ocean in which there is a net northward flow of warm water in all latitudes. Sometimes the flow is saltier and warmer than usual; other times it is fresher and not quite so warm. The salty/warm and fresh/cool phases appear to alternate every 20 to 30 years. During the salty/warm phase, rain falls abundantly in West Africa south of the Sahara, European winters are cold, and hurricane activity increases. During the fresh/cool phase, there are droughts in Africa, mild European winters, and fewer hurricanes.

    The period of the late 1940s through the 1960s was a time of many hurricanes. In the 1970s and 1980s, the thermohaline circulation was in the fresh/cool phase and fewer major hurricanes formed. Apparently, the circulation changed back to the salty/warm phase some time between the late 1980s [when Hurricane Hugo devastated South Carolina, and Gilbert set a record (888 mb or 26.22 inches of Mercury) for the lowest sea-level pressure observed in the Western Hemisphere] and the hyperactive 1995 (11 hurricanes, 5 major hurricanes) and 1996 (9 hurricanes, 6 major) seasons. If the thermohaline circulation has truly changed, we would expect the active phase to last through the first decade of the next century. A particulary ominous aspect of this prediction is that the increase in activity appears most clearly as an increase in devastating major hurricane landfalls from one every other year to one every year.

    Duration: 1981 through the present.


    Goldenberg, S. B., L. J. Shapiro, and C. W. Landsea, 1997: Are we seeing a long-term upturn in Atlantic Basin major hurricane activity related to decadal-scale SST fluctuations? Preprints, Seventh Conference on Climate Variations, Long Beach CA, 2-7 February 1997, American Meteorological Society, 305-310.

  36. Hank Roberts:

    > 29
    …as someone once said …



  37. Pekka Kostamo:

    #18. Global Climate Observation System (GCOS)is a well established World Meteorological Organization (WMO) program. Its workings (including observation station lists) are detailed in http://www.wmo.ch/web/gcos/gcoshome.html

    In short, the GCOS defines a global ground network of observation stations (both upper-air and surface obs) designed to provide a representative, minimum global sampling, based on stations which have the longest available records and an acceptable measurement quality. Unfortunately, the likelihood of future funding has also been among the criteria of selection, with some impacts in the developing nations.

    GCOS also covers new technology, such as the satellite systems. There the primary contribution is in definition of accuracy requirements and standardization of data exchange and archival formats.

    Anyway, the climate observations are primarily derived from the daily weather observations needed for operational forecasting needs. Climate measurement is just an additional requirement for these systems.

    As a typical WMO program, the GCOS operates as a committee of willing volunteers.

    in addition, the several centers doing the global temperature computations have developed their own network selections, based also on the existing weather observing stations.

  38. Steffen Christensen:

    On Alastair’s argument from #9, “One of the fallacies that Curry et al. list is the fallacy of distribution which ‘occurs when an argument assumes that what is true of the members is true of the class (composition), or what is true of the class is true of its members (division).’ It seems to me that scientists have been commiting a similar fallacy for several years now.”

    Perhaps a different approach is in order. Consider Bayesian analysis. The basic idea behind Bayes reasoning is that you begin with a set of alternative hypotheses with unknown probabilities. You then acquire data, and update the probabilities of the candidates being true as more data come in. At the end of the day, you can get tiny probabilities for some of the hypotheses – with is roughly equivalent to a tiny p-value in a frequentist context, or to a high statistical significance (many sigma deviations) in a physics context. The languages are different enough that I’ll use several to get my point across. So let’s consider the hypothesis that the Earth is warming as a result of humans burning carbon. Maybe in 1960, there wasn’t much evidence on the ground. Today, there’s so much that we’re getting 5-sigma temperature highs in Svalbard, Norway (see http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/05/more-on-the-arctic/). Okay, there are a lot of stations on the ground, but the heat wave of 2003 in Europe that killed 35,000 people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2003_European_heat_wave) was a 5-sigma event in Switzerland, and there are others coming. Pump these things through a Bayesian analysis, and the probabilities for “no warming” drop down to zero. Myself, I think that a lot of the recent superfast warming is due to clearing of the atmosphere of particulates and thus uncovering warming already going on, but whatever. My point is, once one hypothesis – the planet is warming – is pinned down to 99.9999%+ certainty, then other hypotheses naturally start following.
    Glacier melting is a pretty solid one. They certainly are. We expect that from warmer climate. QED.
    Lengthening summers in the Northern and Southern hemisphere and species migration as a result thereof is another 5-sigma, based on some research published in Nature a while back. So it’s a 99.9999% fact as well.
    Forest fires, the evidence is mixed, as forest management practices and tree damage due to new bugs are significant confounds. In the case of bugs, there’s some evidence that the bugs are moving north due to climate change, so it’s all circular.
    Hurricane number I don’t buy, but hurricane total energy seems physically plausible. Certainly we have more energy in the air and sea-surface now, but then again, the records, detections, and intensity measurement are so much better today than they were 50 and 100 years ago that it’s almost like two different civilizations taking down the numbers.

    My point is, once enough evidence backs up your proposal, you should get down to arguing about what effects are likely; what are we likely to see and so forth. A single 1:1,000,000 observation is solid enough to proclaim discovery of a new particle or solar system in physics. We have three, all pointing at the same direction. Even with a host of “possible observations” that we might have made in the reference, a proper Bayesian analysis will lead one to conclude that the warming is real, whether you like it or not. Bayesian logic of this sort underlies statements by ecologists, glaciologists and climate scientists who state, somewhat unconvincingly, “the more you learn about the evidence behind climate change, the more convinced you become that the change is real and accelerating”. We are all familiar with new “sciences” that deeper into the research and whose practitioners got more convinced of their own correctness – does phrenology ring any bells? Because of the different domains in which global climate change is being observed and followed, climate science isn’t like that. Even if you could explain away the 5-sigma events in one domain, you still have the others. The mesh of observations is solid, and myself I’d love to see someone do a Bayesian analysis to come with a probability of 10^-900 or something that the climate is not warming. Here in Canada, we even get fun anecdotes, like the fact that the Innu people of the High Arctic are seeing birds that they don’t have names for. Like the Robin. That suggests to me that over a couple of centuries at least the birds haven’t actually been there. Plus it adds a nice human face to the issue.

    Sorry for the vaguely off-topic post, I just tire of hearing individual (early) results being attacked by folks with an axe to grind.

  39. wayne davidson:

    #37 Thanks Pekka, the link does not work, interested in the program nevertheless.

  40. Alastair McDonald:

    Re #38 I think that the reason the link does not work is because the full stop at the end of the sentence gets added to the URL by your browser. Try this link: http://www.wmo.ch/web/gcos/gcoshome.html Look no period :-)

  41. Judith Curry:

    I have certainly found all of your comments very interesting. I would particularly like to respond to #27 re the ‘skepticism’ of forecast meteorologists and also NOAA’s response. My motivation for writing the BAMS article (which I started last October) was to try to understand my personal reaction to all the craziness last fall (sort of like Alice falling down the rabbit hole) and understand how this became such a contentious public debate. Owing to the review process on this paper (which was extremely interesting and unusual, possibly worth another post), some of the material in the originally submitted versions could not be published, and I touched on some of this in my congressional testimony.

    Early in the debate, the usual greenhouse warming contrarians were trotted out (e.g. Peter Webster’s ‘debate’ on CNN with Myron Ebell, a lawyer with the Competitive Enterprise Institute). But the media quickly lost interest as a far more interesting debate emerged with Bill Gray and the National Hurricane Center, with their opinions echoed on TV across the country by TV meteorologists.

    Here is some of the text from the original manuscript that I was asked to remove during the review process:

    Most of these issues were raised by members of the hurricane forecasting community. The prevailing views on the topic of hurricanes and global change differ considerably between hurricane forecasters and climate researchers. The consensus view of hurricane forecasters is to attribute the warming in the North Atlantic and the associated in increase in hurricane frequency and intensity to natural variability. The consensus view of climate researchers is to attribute the warming, particularly since 1970, to have a substantial component associated with greenhouse warming. These discrepancies can be understood at least in part by clarifying the source of these differing perspectives. The hurricane forecaster focuses on predicting the path and intensity of land falling hurricanes, and also makes seasonal forecasts. They work on verifying their forecasts, and they are also experts on hurricane data. On the other hand, the climate researcher does not focus on forecasting but rather applies the scientific method to understanding the underlying physical processes and causes of climate variability. The climate researcher has expertise on climate data records and statistical methods.

    The richness of the meteorological community, including both scientific researchers and the operational forecasting community, provides the community with both benefits and challenges. As a result of the utility of operational forecasting and the utility of the reanalysis products, some sloppy practices have crept into the meteorological research community in terms of careful assessment of the errors of data sets and hypothesis testing. The public views the meteorological community in a monolithic way and seems prepared to accept the opinions of TV weather forecasters on issues such as global warming, in spite of the fact that this community has most often no expertise on this topic. A dichotomy has developed in the U.S. between the operational forecasting community and the meteorological research community, a dichotomy that does not exist in Europe. Some of the most challenging scientific issues that are also of the highest policy relevance are at the interface of climate change and weather extremes. The operational forecasting communities and the research communities need to work together on these issues, and NOAA and the AMS can play a major role in facilitating this collaboration. We must make every effort to avoid institutionalized scientific bias in our community, whereby an organization or group of scientists or other professionals discount what is not known by them personally or collectively, or a group of scientists becomes protective of a scientific research area as being their ‘turf’. The end result of this debate is likely to be that this public fragmentation of the meteorological community has generally lessened the possibility for this community to influence policy.

    While the subject matter of atmospheric science and forecast meteorology shares much common ground, forecast meteorologists operate in more of an engineering environment relative to the research branch of atmospheric science (I value a good weather forecast as much as anyone!). Bill Gray is an interesting ‘hybrid├ó’ in that while he worked for decades in the university environment and publishes frequently in the scientific literature, his heritage and mode of thinking seems to be more in line with the meteorological forecasting community (Bill Gray’s lengthy interview with Joel Achenbach would seem to support this characterization). Meteorologists with a B.S. degree (note many TV meteorologists do not even have this credential) would rarely take a course in climate and global change; this course is not even listed on the NOAA/NWS or AMS certification guidelines for meteorologists. This lack of knowledge even trickles up to the Ph.D. level in meteorology, where I suspect many Ph.D. meteorologists have never taken a course in climate and global change. Further, the entire meteorological education is focused on forecasting: understanding short-term weather patterns, looking for analogues, etc. and the ‘experience’ of weather forecasters is actually important here in being able to call up ‘analogues’ of past disturbances or seasons. Bill Gray certainly has more experience than anyone in this regard in the hurricane world, which is why he has made statements that he is the authority and that ‘we’ are not qualified (again, refer to the Achenbach article), and the length of his experience (50 years) contributes mightily to the support of his views in the hurricane forecasting community. This is vastly different from the research community, whereby a Ph.D. student can legitimately and effectively challenge the research of a Nobel Laureate through the refereed scientific literature. Further, owing to the emphasis on forecasting, this community does not operate in the same way that atmospheric science researchers (outside the forecasting community) operate in terms of hypothesis testing etc., which is why I focused the article in terms of laying out the scientific method, fallacies, etc. (note all of the fallacies came from the hurricane forecasting community via the media; I included specific citations in the 2nd version of the paper, but this was also nixed). Even among Ph.D. meteorologists, global warming is not widely accepted. In addition to the issues previously raised, there has been some ‘resentment’ among the meteorological community about the success (particularly in terms of funding) of the U.S. climate research programs, which they view as coming at the expense of meteorological/weather research (with initiatives such as STORM, the U.S. Weather Research Program, THORPEX receiving orders of magnitude less funding). This issue re funding for climate science has been mentioned numerous times by Bill Gray in the media. Am I criticizing forecast meteorologists? I highly value their forecasts, and believe that they are for the most part hardworking and honest human beings (although I have my doubts about of few of them in the private sector), and many of them are probably quite brilliant. But something is wrong with the system, and this brings us to NOAA (and to a lesser extent the American Meteorological Society).

    Mix all of the above with a ‘political agenda’ that is anti-greenhouse warming with the Undersecretary of NOAA (a political appointee) saying that we do not know what to attribute the recent warming to, then we have a complex situation indeed. NOAA is a large and complex organization, and I don’t envy anyone that is trying to administer all that. But the hurricane and global warming debate has illuminated some glaring problems in my opinion. There is a substantial disconnect between the various branches of NOAA: there are numerous NOAA agencies with substantial expertise in climate change global warming, the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), the Boulder Labs, and GFDL to name a few. Apparently there is little to no interaction of these agencies with the National Weather Service NWS (although there is apparently some interaction with GFDL). This lack of interaction is to the detriment of both scientific research and the forecasts. The Europeans (notably ECMWF) do not have the dichotomy between forecasting and research, and weather and climate that we see in the U.S., and their forecasts are far better than those in the U.S. (particularly ECMWF).

    Now, to the American Meteorological Society, of which I am an active member and have previously served as Councillor. 20 years ago, the AMS was the main professional society for atmospheric scientists: NOAA, university, and private sector with the majority of members from NOAA. As atmospheric sciences broadened as a field and became more interdisciplinary, many of the university types became affiliated primarily with the American Geophysical Union, which is dominated by research scientists. Most of the ‘older’ atmospheric scientists (like me) have maintained a membership in the AMS, but the demographics of the AMS are now such that the membership is approaching 50% private sector. The AMS however maintains an excellent series of scientific journals which score at least as high as the AGU journals in terms of citations/impact. The AMS has struggled in recent years with the conflicts between public sector (NOAA) meteorologists and private sector meteorologists. There is obviously another challenge for the AMS in bridging the broader community of forecast meteorologists with the research community particularly on the topic of climate change.

    Particularly on the hurricane and global warming issue, Peter Webster and I are now ‘card carrying’ members of the tropical listserv (Emanuel and Holland are long term members) which is the main venue for communications mostly about hurricanes by operational forecasters with researchers mainly seeming to lurk and occasionally post (note this is not a blog, but a private listserv). I posted the BAMS article on this listserv, so far no one has posted any public responses (although I have received a few personal emails). Obviously a very different response from the realclimate community.

    We certainly live in interesting times, and the blogosphere adds a unique element to this, I appreciate the opportunity for a venue to post what I couldn’t publish on the topic.

  42. Jeff Weffer:

    I would like to see the HURDAT series plotted by year and then by year/category.

    Judith, why did your paper plot SSTs and global average temperatures by year but then fail to plot hurricanes by year when we have such a thorough HURDAT dataset series?

    Why highlight hurricanes for the 1945-55 and 1995-2005 decades only?

  43. Dan Hughes:

    re:#32. Yes, I used an incorrect nomenclature, but I said, “10.4615% of sales”. That is the way I frequently see profit results reported.

    etc….. [edited]
    Income Earn Market Cap Rev/ Emp Earn/Emp Cap/Emp Profit
    Company Employees Billions Billions Billions Thousands Thousands Thousands % P/E
    Oracle 42,000 10.6 2.9 66.0 252.38 69.05 1571.43 27.0 22.76

    BTW, how does 31% on the basis you report compare with other industrial segments?


  44. Leonard Evens:

    No one has addressed the contention that using five year averages distorts the data. I’m afraid I don’t understand that. In any time series, you will have a basic trend with additional noise. Is the contention that the noise is so great that no trend can be detected? This seems implausible to me given that five year smoothing does show a trend. Also, there are statistical techniques for checking this sort of thing which Curry, et. al. must be entirely familiar with. Perhaps I am guilty of appealing to authority, but I can’t believe this is a serious issue.

  45. Fiona Sullivan:

    RE #11 “For some reason, just about all US media outlets (Bloomberg excepted) view the ‘biggest typhoon to hit China in 50 years” as not being a newsworthy item. Doesn’t that seem just a little odd?”
    I would think that unless it was a slow news day, The media would consider this item no different than war in Rwanda, or famine in Africa etc, in other words it is about THEM, not US, distant, just something you read about.

    When the ozone hole caught the attention of the public it did so because it was simplified in the public mind down to…We will all die of skin cancer if we do not fix this!
    When the Love Canal issue really hit the media…the word that you heard the most was CANCER!

    When you discipline an unruly child, you say something like; “if you don’t stop now you will get a smack” or “you won’t get dessert” etc, etc… the punishment/consequence is close to home and immediate.
    When you tell a group of typical teens that if they continue to smoke cigarettes, they might well suffer from lung disease in X years…then you will still find most of them smoking for many years to come….the consequences are seemingly too distant and vague to be scary.

    Maybe the writers of this (extremely informative and interesting) site need to get together with a group of sympathetic child psychologists in order to figure out the best way to present the global warming issue to the public….or even (and I hate to suggest this) take a page from your opponents book and hire a publicity firm.

    It is obvious to me that most among you are unwilling to oversimplify the realities of global warming; I do understand that oversimplifying could also leave you more open to attack from skeptic groups, but the only way you are going to get the necessary public pressure moving against the government is if the public is convinced that this is an immediate issue that directly affects them….right now too many people are like that frog in “An Inconvenient Truth”, just happily sitting there while the water around it ever so slowly heats to boiling.

  46. Gar Lipow:

    >Yes, I used an incorrect nomenclature, but I said, “10.4615% of sales”. That is the way I frequently see profit results reported.

    I don’t know what context you are looking at information in. Sales margin is generally considered useful for comparing returns within an industry. It tells you if the company is keeping its cost down or cutting prices excessively. But in the end return to capital is what you care about. Think about buying stocks or bonds, or any investment you make as an individual. What you care about is return to to capital; you care about other information – margins and fees and such insofar as it affects your return to capital.

    >BTW, how does 31% on the basis you report compare with other industrial segments?

    Between double and triple, if you are comparing to average U.S. industrial return on capital.

    [Response: Fascinating as this is, can we keep on topic? No more sales figures discussion please… – gavin]

  47. Sally:

    Re #27. “OK, what could possibly be NOAA’s motivation for doing this? And why are meteorologists denying global warming? I thought this topic was beyond debate in the scientific community.”

    In the UK there is a distinct difference between the meteorologists from the BBC and those on the commercial stations. The commercial stations are often sponsored by energy companies, which makes sense, as domestic heating is driven by weather. As they say after every forecast, “Power, whatever the weather.”

    Is this driven by something so simple as sponsorship?

  48. Wacki - www.logicalscience.com:

    Judith Curry, thanks for the very informative response.

    “Here is some of the text from the original manuscript that I was asked to remove during the review process:”

    #1 It seems like all of your statements could have easily been fact checked. If your information is accurate, why the hell is the AMS censoring you?

    “Undersecretary of NOAA (a political appointee) saying that we do not know what to attribute the recent warming to”

    #2 Do you have a link quote? I couldn’t find him denying global warming. He denied the hurricane link, but not AGW.

    also from this article:

    “It quoted Don Kennedy, editor in chief of Science magazine, as saying, “There are a lot of scientists there who know it is nonsense . . . but they are being discouraged from talking to the press about it.”

    Last month, retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., the NOAA’s administrator, issued a statement saying that the media reports about muzzling NOAA scientists are incorrect. He urged the NOAA’s scientists to speak freely and openly.”


    #3 Your story seems to fall inline with this. However, neither the suppression nor the hurricanes have a lot of credibility unless there is a list of scientists speaking up. I know of the 10K long petition vs Bush but you need one from NOAA. You also need one on hurricanes. Why aren’t more people stepping up? If Hansen and Piltz can do it, surely others can. If someone gets fired after the admiral made his statement 60 minutes would be all over it.

  49. Judith Curry:

    Re #48: for the record, the BAMS editor Ed Zipser did an outstanding job of handling the review process for a very controversial paper for the meteorological community. So I do not feel that I was “censored” by the AMS. It is up to them what they choose to allow in a peer reviewed article (as opposed to letter to the editor or whatever). Zipser made every effort, based on the reviewers’ comments, to judge what he felt was unnecessarily inflammatory (I am still not sure why in particular the first paragraph was deemed inflammatory). And I did not want the article to inflame the very people I most wanted to reach. What made the whole review process very interesting is that I received the 2nd round of reviews in mid-Feb, shortly after the infamous WSJ Feb 2 article of “brain fossilization” fame (this article is alluded to indirectly in our BAMS article). Direct quotes from two of the reviewers: “Assume you saw the Wall Street Journal article–how hypocritical can she be?? I am disgusted with the whole mess.” “In any event, it’s difficult to try to review this revised paper in isolation from the above context, which was a considerable embarrassment not just to our field, but to scientists everywhere. As a result of those recent events, it’s hard not to be more leery of a whole range of statements made in the paper, and to see inconsistencies, perhaps even hypocrisy, laced throughout.” Given all that, I would say that we got a very fair shake by the AMS in the review process. Re the “censored” comments, perhaps they are more appropriate for the blogosphere than a peer reviewed journal, so I am happy to have had the opportunity to post them on realclimate.

  50. wayne davidson:

    #41 Many thanks Judith Curry, as I posted earlier, I am a bit amazed that AMS has published a very well thought article on AGW, and perhaps there were many more, as you might have suggested, but the influence of such articles are clearly shown daily on all TV sets; none. TV meteorologists and the institutions providing their basic info, have a phobia with respect to AGW which is hard to understand. As far as each meteorologist education is concerned, there is plenty of time to learn after graduation,
    seminars, lectures, reading articles, a bit of self motivation and a little bit of curiosity will lead to the same conclusion, AGW is taking place big time. If meteorologists are not curious about what is driving this changing climate, who else? I believe that media meteorologists need to let go the stigma attached to AGW, and clearly explain, whenever incredible series of heat records happen for instance, either by themselves (I’ve seen one TV meteorologist say once “its because of Global Warming” in 30 years of watching) or let a guest, like yourself or RC moderators, or my favorite Dr Bill Nye (not a meteorologist but a science professor capable of explaining the process of AGW with remarkable ease to the masses) explain the very basic science driving the world to a warmer place, that would help, never thought that there is such things as Met Taboo’s aside from looking well dressed on TV.