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Storm World: A Review

Filed under: — mike @ 18 June 2007

If you are a RealClimate regular, you are undoubtedly aware of our ongoing interest in the developments in the scientific understanding of potential hurricane-climate change linkages. This is an area of the science where a substantial body of significant new research has emerged even since RealClimate’s inception in late 2004. The scientific research in this area, and the media frenzy and political theatrics that have inescapably followed it, are thoughtfully placed in a broader historical context in a fascinating new book by Chris Mooney entitled Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle over Global Warming. Anyone who is at all interested in the scientific history that has led to our current understanding of Hurricanes and their potential linkages with climate change, will find this book a page turner. The book is a nice complement to Kerry Emanuel’s recent book Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes (which too is so readable that it lies on our coffee table). Mooney in a sense picks up where Emanuel’s left off. Like Emanuel, he explores the history of the science. But he uses this historical context, and his studies of the personalities of key actors, to explore how the current scientific debate can be traced back to a rift that has emerged over many decades between distinct communities of atmospheric scientists.

Those looking for a polemic (the title of Mooney’s previous book, after all, was “The Republican War on Science”) will be disapointed. Mooney has clearly matured as a writer, and this latest book constitutes his best effort to date. He delivers a thoughtful, non-partisan, and scientifically and historically accurate review of the emergent science exploring the potential influence of climate change on hurricanes.

If you’ve followed the scientific debate on global warming and hurricanes, you will recognize many of the characters in Mooney’s tale (yours truly even gets mentioned a few times :) ). You will also not be surprised to find that William Gray and Kerry Emanuel are the two most prominently featured scientists. In part of course, because they neatly symbolize the two opposing camps in the current debate: contrast for example Emanuel’s work demonstrating a linkage between increasing hurricane intensity and global warming with Gray’s denial of any such link. However, Mooney also traces their respective work back to two different historical schools of thought in the atmospheric science community. On one side are the data-driven empiricists, such as Redfield, Loomis,and Riehl and on the other side the theorists such as Espy, Ferrel and Charney. Gray naturally follows in the tradition of the first group (his Ph.D adviser was Riehl who is sometimes credited as the father of the field of tropical meteorology). Emanuel, a student of Charney, follows in the tradition of the great theorists in atmospheric science. Of course its not quite that simple (and Mooney acknowledges as much). Though Emanuel may perhaps be best known for his theoretical investigations of Hurricane potential intensity, he has also done considerable work analyzing observations. And while best known for his work deducing from observations the parameters governing hurricane genesis, Gray has nonetheless made forays into “theory” (though the results have been decidedly mixed). But the historical context that Mooney provides gives quite a bit of insight into the divergent views that have arisen among partisans in the current hurricane-climate debate.

Mooney covers many of the themes and issues we’ve discussed here before, but adds his own novel interpretations and uncovers a number of key historical details, in the process of stitching together a compelling narrative. Naturally, there is discussion of the hoopla over the active 2004 and 2005 Atlantic hurricane seasons and the aftermath of Katrina. There is extensive discussion of the high-profile studies by Emanuel, Webster, Curry and coworkers (see e.g. here and here) which, eerily coincident with the record-setting 2005 season, first suggested a detectable climate change signal in hurricane behavior. Due attention, in turn, is payed to the active scientific debate these studies have subsequently generated. Mooney describes the debate over the role of natural vs. anthropogenic factors in observed tropical warming trends that have been related to increased hurricane activity, and there is a fair amount of discussion of the partisanship that high-level NOAA administrators have apparently taken in this debate. But, you might ask, what is the bottom line taken by Mooney? What side of the debate does he come down on? Well, again, those looking for a fight will again be disappointed.

Mooney doesn’t come down on any particular ‘side’ of the debate. Instead, he explores the nuances of the scientific findings and views of the various protagonists, and helps the science and the scientists speak for themselves. For example, he gives Bill Gray credit (and rightly so) for the important contributions he has made to our current understanding of hurricane genesis, and shows a somewhat bemused admiration for Gray as a sympathetic relic of a dying breed of atmospheric scientist. But this does not stand in the way of him criticizing Gray (again rightly so) for his curmudgeonly scorn of current generation scientists, and in particular his somewhat irrational rejection of the science supporting an anthropogenic influence on climate. Mooney articulates his criticism gently, by citing Arthur C. Clarke’s “First Law”

When a distinguished elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

There should be no misunderstanding. While Mooney is indeed balanced, he is not completely agnostic either. He recognizes that hurricane characteristics are indeed changing and that, while we may not yet have arrived at definitive answers to the underlying scientific questions, we ought to be concerned.

One could quibble with some details of the book. As we have remarked before, one should be very careful about giving too much weight to any one late-breaking paper. Where there are certainly exceptions where paradigms are dramatically broken on the strength of one groundbreaking paper, science rarely works that way. Instead, scientific understanding generally advances slowly and steadily, based on the results of many independent studies. Mooney however gives quite a bit of weight to the recent article by Kossin et al just published as the book was completed. While this study is undoubtedly an important contribution to the literature, introducing a potentially useful methodology for refining estimates of past tropical cyclone activity in all the major basins, it is hardly the last word (see e.g. the discussion thread in our previous article on the paper). And in places, the implications of that paper are overplayed. For example, Mooney appears in places to imply that the paper’s findings challenge the contention that climate change can be tied to increasing hurricane intensity. While the Kossin et al results do challenge some of the findings described in the work by Webster et al (2005) (i.e., the trends for the Pacific and Indian basins), they reinforce the conclusion of positive intensity trends for the Atlantic. Perhaps more importantly, the paper in no way challenges the Emanuel (2005) study demonstrating a close linkage between warming sea surface temperatures and hurricane intensity for the Atlantic. Indeed, those latter findings have been reinforced, not challenged, by more recent work (e.g. Sriver and Huber).

These are minor quibbles however. Mooney chose to walk a minefield in attempting to assess a controversial and quickly evolving field in climate research. He not only succeeded in producing a fair and accurate description of the science, but provides us a fascinating read as well. There is a good chance the book will achieve a very wide readership. If so, then Mooney has performed a real service by helping communicate a subtle but important topic within the scientific discourse to the person on the street.

Note: Chris Mooney has provided us with an early copy of Storm World and we’re reviewing it before the official publication date–July 9–so you can’t get the book yet in stores. However, you can order it on Amazon.com. You can also visit the book website for more information (including an excerpt of the first chapter).


157 Responses to “Storm World: A Review”

  1. 101
    Timothy Chase says:

    Lawrence Brown (#100) wrote:

    The ideological descendents of the middle ages, like those who tried and suceeded in silencing Galileo,Bruno and others , are with us in modern times and to this very day.

    Your most recent post does nothing to suggest that Bruno was a scientist beyond what your original post did.

    In any case, if by “the ideological descendants,” you are refering to the Catholic Church, you are mistaken: they recognize the threat of climate change, although they seek to balance it against their concern for the poor. If you are refering to the Evangelicals, they are coming around – and there already exists a fledgling evangelical movement which has turned its attention to climate change.

    Despite my considerable support for the free market, I have to acknowledge the fact that this is largely the result of politics being driven by the business agendas of a few key industries. In this case, the one company which I would place at the very top of the list is Exxon which has considerable influence in the current US administration.

    In any case, lets not try and drag religion into this.

  2. 102
    Ike Solem says:

    RE “The Galileo analogy’, the problem is simply that the answer to the question, “does burning fossil fuels warm the planet significantly” appears to be yes, based on decades of scientific inquiry. This creates a serious problem for the existing energy industry, as it means that trillions of dollars will have to be invested in renewable energy infrastructure of various kinds (instead of in Lear jets, for example).

    In the medieval case, the problem was that scientists were coming up with answers that challenged papal authority.

  3. 103
    Lawrence Brown says:

    It’s not about religion,Tim. It’s about large influential organizations and other entities such as corporations or as in the case of the Department of Energy that I referred to, government bureaucracies, that try to place theirown interests or “ideology”(republican,democrat,Spinozan,deist), if you will, above science.
    I notice that you took offense to the reference to those who were punished in the case of a church, but made no mention of the punishment meted out to Dr. Hansen by the DOE in the early 1980s, forcing him to layoff 5 people and reducing the scope of his research. I have nothing against any religion, except maybe so called “creation science”.
    I’d like to get back to the subject matter at hand,namely stormy weather. In 2005 two category 5 hurricanes hit the gulf coast and the World Meteorogical organization ran out of letters in the English alphabet and to resort the Greek alphabet to name hurricanes. The planet is noticeably changing and we ought to start doing something about it sooner rather than later. A good start would be a herculean effort on the scale of the Apollo project to find and use alternative sources of energy and away from fossil fuels.

  4. 104
    Timothy Chase says:

    Lawrence Brown (#103) wrote:

    It’s not about religion,Tim. It’s about large influential organizations and other entities such as corporations or as in the case of the Department of Energy that I referred to, government bureaucracies, that try to place theirown interests or “ideology”(republican,democrat,Spinozan,deist), if you will, above science…

    Well then, you could have been dragging in Nazi opposition to relativity or Lysenkoism under Stalin. A bit odd that you kept hammering away at the middle ages with Giordano Bruno and Galileo. Just seemed pretty strange that this was what you kept coming back to.

    At the same time, what we are currently facing doesn’t look so much like ideology as financial interests wrapping themselves in the garb of ideology.

    I’d like to get back to the subject matter at hand,namely stormy weather.

    Sounds good.

    In 2005 two category 5 hurricanes hit the gulf coast and the World Meteorogical organization ran out of letters in the English alphabet and to resort the Greek alphabet to name hurricanes. The planet is noticeably changing and we ought to start doing something about it sooner rather than later.

    Ok. We are going to talk about hurricanes.

    A good start would be a herculean effort on the scale of the Apollo project to find and use alternative sources of energy and away from fossil fuels.

    Scratch that. We are going to talk about alternate energy.

    Or perhaps finding alternate energy supplies for hurricanes…?

    Wait a second… Gulf region – Ok, I think I see the connection.

    Sometimes my mind will work like that, too. Old age, perhaps, or forgetting my medicine, or maybe forgetting my medicine on account of my old age. Well, you get the picture. Wait a second – I’m not quite that old yet…

    Oh, nevermind!

  5. 105
    Rod B says:

    re 100: Trying to equate AGW skepticism, even if gov’t cajoled, with Catholic inquisition is one giant leap of logic.

  6. 106
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE the Arctic & Antarctic melting (#73), it may be that the CSIRO said we would be “committed” to complete (or much) melting by mid-century under a BAU scenario, but the actual time it would take to melt might be many many decades or even a century or two or three.

    I also understand that if we reach a certain point of warming (the runaway tipping point of no return), we will be committed to higher and higher temps, which may also guarantee a complete (or much) melting.

  7. 107
    Timothy Chase says:

    Rod B (#105) wrote:

    re 100: Trying to equate AGW skepticism, even if gov’t cajoled, with Catholic inquisition is one giant leap of logic.

    Well, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

    *

    Seriously, this isn’t specific to “AGW skepticism” or what have you.

    It has to do with the suppression of science and of truth and of those who pursue the truth. It is the suppression of truth for the sake of the preservation of an illegitimate and corrupt power since if it were not illegitimate and corrupt it would have nothing to fear from truth. This isn’t a question of the century in which power is used to suppress truth or a question of the methods which are used, but a question of the principle and the obscenity.

    This is something which Lawrence Brown alluded to earlier, I believe, when he spoke of “truth to power.” That and the fact that truth must be greater than power if power fears truth.

    Or so I would assume.

    *

    Re: Lawrence Brown,

    My apologies for misunderstanding you.

  8. 108
    nicolas L. says:

    I don’t want to get into any sort of religious or political debate.
    Just to say a few things about Giordano Bruno: he was first and foremost a philosopher, not an astronomer in the stricter sense, and he actually loved occult “sciences” (like many scientists and philosopehrs of the medieval period, should we say), but some of its conceptions of the world were actually way ahead of its time. He was one of the first to promote soundly the Copernican model. He also promoted an infinite universe with each star being a sun with a solar system rotating around it (plurality of the worlds), and even the idea of primary particles composing the matter and called atoms. He thought the laws of physics were equally applying on every corner of this infinite universe. It has to be said again most of its conclusions derived of its philosophical approach, not of a scientific study per se. But some of its views on universe still sound very modern and accurate to this day, even in the astronomical community (mainly plurality of the worlds and infinity of universe).
    Of course, quite a number of its ideas on the world sound wacky today: the idea of a universe composed of 4 elements (fire, water, earth and air), or the concept of an aether surrounding the universe. These are just a few exemples. It is also to be noticed he putted very little faith in mathematics to explain the universe.
    Charges against him, during his trial, included notably its claims on plurality of the worlds and their eternity (amongst other contradictions to the catholic dogma).
    He sure cannot be credited for a scientific work, but I think he can be for promoting the new ideas of his time and foreseing some of the complexity of our universe.

  9. 109
    Jon Taylor says:

    I’m interested to know what the view is on the impact of peak oil on some of the carbon control legislation / measures being introduced at the moment.

    If predictions about remaining oil reserves are proven to be correct, within a decade the price of crude and its better known refined products such as gasoline etc. are likely to rise rapidly as demand outstrips supply. For example – In the 1970â��s oil production drops of around 5% produced a 400% increase in cost.

    As the cost of almost all goods, food, electronics etc. can be correlated directly with the cost of crude oil, price rises are likely to have a major impact on all major industrialised economies within the next decade or so. What is the view on what impact this will have on the appetite to stick with current carbon control measures?

    I have my own views on this, but I think this scenario is definitely worth investigating. Surely democratically elected governments are far more likely to appease the biggest and most directly felt pain of their electorate, than that just around the corner.

  10. 110

    [[The ideological descendents of the middle ages, like those who tried and suceeded in silencing Galileo,Bruno and others , are with us in modern times and to this very day.]]

    The intellectual descendants of the middle ages include every scientist working in the field, in a lab, or in an office today, since the foundations for modern science were laid in the middle ages. The belief in secondary causation — that things could act on other things directly instead of God or gods intervening to make the changes — was what enabled the study of nature as a thing separate from theology. Interestingly, this advance came almost exclusively from church officials, men such as Thomas Aquinas, Robert Grossteste, Nicolas Oresme, and Roger Bacon. The lack of a doctrine of secondary causation was what caused the scientific revolution to abort in ancient Greece, China and the middle east.

    Bruno and Galileo were persecuted during the Renaissance, not the middle ages.

  11. 111

    [[Charges against him, during his trial, included notably its claims on plurality of the worlds and their eternity (amongst other contradictions to the catholic dogma).]]

    The plurality of worlds was not in conflict with Catholic dogma. It was a commonplace of belief among educated people since Roman times, and definitely the middle ages, that all the planets, and the sun and the moon, were inhabited.

    I highly recommend C.S. Lewis’s “The Discarded Image” (1964) for a good introduction to the medieval worldview. The popular images of what that worldview were like are nearly all completely wrong, and stem mostly from things made up by Edward Gibbon in the 18th century and Andrew Dickson in the 19th, both of whom had anti-Christian axes to grind.

  12. 112
    nicolas L. says:

    re 111

    Galileo was pursued for heresy by the catholic church in 1633 (33 years after Giordano Bruno death) because he had supported the heliocentric system in “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems”. If the catholic church at the time wasn’t ready to accept the earth rotating around the sun (being itself the center of the universe of course), I don’t think they were ready to accept the plurality of the worlds :).
    You can find the detail of the chiefs of accusation at the Giordano Bruno trial in a book wrote by Luigi Firpo (Italian historian) in 1993. Support to plurality of the worlds was part of it, and was considered has highly heretic. I don’t know if there was an English translation of that book, but the translation from the title would be “the trial of Giordano Bruno”.
    Middle age was a dark time for science (at least in Europe), and most of people even considered earth was flat (though it has been proved spheric since Antiquity).

  13. 113
    Lawrence Brown says:

    Barton Levinson makes my point that I wasn’t attacking religion, but attacking those who put people to death for their beliefs or lack of them.
    Levinson says in part:
    “The belief in secondary causation — that things could act on other things directly instead of God or gods intervening to make the changes — was what enabled the study of nature as a thing separate from theology. Interestingly, this advance came almost exclusively from church officials, men such as Thomas Aquinas, Robert Grossteste, Nicolas Oresme, and Roger Bacon. put people to death because of their beliefs.”
    Don’t forget Gregor Mendel and his great contribution in heredity studies to the biological sciences.Iknow, I know,Mendel was post rennaisance.
    There’s no need to apologize for misunderstanding me,Tim, I’m don’t always understand myself. The main thing is to be able to agreeably disagree.
    Tim says: “It(AGW Skepticism) has to do with the suppression of science and of truth and of those who pursue the truth. It is the suppression of truth for the sake of the preservation of an illegitimate and corrupt power since if it were not illegitimate and corrupt it would have nothing to fear from truth. This isn’t a question of the century in which power is used to suppress truth or a question of the methods which are used, but a question of the principle and the obscenity.”
    I couldn’t agree more!
    I believe that Bruno was put to death because he believed in Copernicus’s world view rather than Aristotle’s. Aristotle was a brilliant man, but as a physicist he was way off. His periodic table consisted of four elements(Earth, air, fire and water), he didn’t believe in experimentation and thought larger objects fall faster than smaller ones.

  14. 114
    Calibabe says:

    Point of no return for BAU.

    It would be interesting to get the Positions of
    respected folks like, M Mann, Gavin, Stefan, and others
    here, ray, tim, ike, eli..

    I agree with Al, and hope he runs. He said:

    “The point of no return will be reached within 10 years, the former vice president says, and we cannot wait any longer to solve the crisis. ”

    What say you guys?

  15. 115
    Doug Watts says:

    I’m hoping this type of mature dialogue about hurricanes ends the fascination since the 1960s with dropping stuff in them or otherwise trying to “stop” them. A significant fraction of New England’s annual precipitation comes from hurricane and hurricane remnants travelling up the Atlantic seaboard.

  16. 116
    catman306 says:

    Fixing the climate (or adapting to the changes) is going to take some changes in human behavior. Here is an excellent article about swarming behavior and how dumb creatures can work together in a very intelligent way to survive for many millions of years.

    http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0707/feature5/

  17. 117

    Re #97 where Timothy wrote:

    Alstair, If you really want something to worry about, consider the possibility of the spontaneous decay of the false vacuum.

    If I wanted something to worry about I wouldn’t choose science fiction, or even a once in 13 billion years event. It appears that we are hit by catastrophic impacts every 65 million years causing mass extinctions, and eruption from super volcanoes every 50 thousand years, with the last one nearly wiping out mankind.

    The point is that all these events are beyond the capability of man to affect. Rapid climate change events are in a different category. We have increased the concentration of a major greenhouse gas by over a third. The Arctic sea ice is thinning rapidly. See: http://www.abmcdonald.freeserve.co.uk/north.htm and Prof. Wally Broecker, who warned about the the Angry Beast, is now convinced that the rapid climate change is caused by changes in sea ice.

    It is gross stupidity to ignore the warning signs when they are there. Burying your head in the sand, or yelling “Chicken Little” at people, will not stop the climate machine.

  18. 118
    Jim Galasyn says:

    In 117, Alastair wrote:

    The point is that all these events are beyond the capability of man to affect. Rapid climate change events are in a different category.

    If you want a slightly more plausible scenario than those Timothy cites, you could worry about a cometary impact, like that which apparently roasted North America 12,900 years ago (Diamonds tell tale of comet that killed off the cavemen).

    But Alastair’s point is well taken: If climate change is a global catastrophe, it is unique in that it is entirely of human creation, and we are morally responsible for the outcome.

    I’m with the guys at the Earth Institute and choose to remain optimistic that we can slow and reverse AGW through prudent application of markets and technology. But I’m still not bringing any children into the 21st century.

  19. 119

    [[ If the catholic church at the time wasn't ready to accept the earth rotating around the sun (being itself the center of the universe of course), I don't think they were ready to accept the plurality of the worlds]]

    You can think what you like, but you’re wrong. The Romans were also geocentrists, but they had no problem believing in the plurality of worlds — see Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, or Lucian of Samosata’s True History. The eighth century South English Legendary accepted the plurality of worlds and so did every one of the great science encyclopaedias of the middle ages. BTW, it’s “revolving” around the sun.

  20. 120

    [[Middle age was a dark time for science (at least in Europe), and most of people even considered earth was flat (though it has been proved spheric since Antiquity). ]]

    Most people might have, but not educated people, who were taught astronomy from Ptolemy’s Almagest (Mathematikay Suntaxis). And as I said, the foundations of modern empirical science were laid down during the middle ages.

  21. 121

    [[I believe that Bruno was put to death because he believed in Copernicus's world view rather than Aristotle's. ]]

    The real reason Bruno was put to death was that he was even more of an antisocial crank than Galileo. His life history as an adult is basically a long list of countries and universities that accepted him at first but eventually kicked him out. Of the eight articles of indictment at his trial in Rome, none of them mentioned Copernican theory or the plurality of worlds. The major charges were denying the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and Transsubstantiation, not to mention “immoral conduct,” which meant then pretty much what it means now, and performing magic. Despite all that, the Roman Inquisition tried for eight years to get him to agree to some compromise. Will you sign this? Will you come so far as to admit this? But Bruno was the type who never admitted he was wrong about anything, so they finally gave up and executed him. That’s wrong by modern beliefs and I don’t agree with it, but by the standards of the time they were as lenient with him as they could possibly be. He had a number of ways out and he took none of them.

  22. 122
    Timothy Chase says:

    Alastair McDonald (#117) wrote:

    It is gross stupidity to ignore the warning signs when they are there. Burying your head in the sand, or yelling “Chicken Little” at people, will not stop the climate machine.

    The following (#94) seemed excessive, and not just to me:

    Timothy says don’t panic, the scientists know what is happening. But how are they going to save us? The Greenland ice sheet has started melting and they have done nothing. If it melts even faster what can they do?

    I would argue that we have more probable threats which are serious enough as it is. Arguing without good reason as you did that there could be a change in the mode of ocean circulation similar to what brought on the Holocene Maximum distracts us from those threats.

    However, it is quite possible that we will have our first ice-free summer in the Arctic Ocean by 2020. I’ve stated as much on a number of occasions. In fact, I had vague suspicions to this effect when I only knew that they were talking about 2040.

  23. 123
    Ike Solem says:

    Steven Milloy of Fox, Junkscience, and tobacco lobby fame is now claiming that he’s discovered fatal flaws in global warming theory. His claim is that ‘ever-changing global temperatures aren’t keeping pace with ever-increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels’. The article is a collection of dishonest claims and handwaving designed to convince the reader that there’s no need to stop burning fossil fuels (which would only hurt the poor, you see).

    You can see the article at Fox News. The author, Milloy, has a history of working for tobacco, chemical and fossil fuel public relations groups and is behind the junkscience.com website run by the fake grassroots organization ‘TASSC’ (The Advancement for Sound Science Coalition, initially funded by PhilipMorris – in case you were wondering what all the tobacco lobbyists are doing for jobs these days). For fun, read down the points and see if you can find the realclimate article that debunks each one. No mention is made of hurricanes, or other ‘extreme weather events’ that are show some relationship to global warming.

    One example is heat waves. Should we expect more frequent, prolonged and intense heat waves all around the planet as a consequence of global warming? How could one decide wether a given heat wave was ‘normal’ or ‘global-warming amplified’? What kind of trends in the frequency, duration and intensity of heat waves would indicate a link to global warming?

    A heat wave is defined relative to the normal climate pattern for a given area, so the question of detecting heat wave trends depends heavily on the use of baseline or ‘normal’ climate data. People have done such studies, and results show that in Western Europe (since 1880) the number of hot days per year has tripled and the duration of heat waves has doubled. (WP article). Not only that, nighttime summer temperatures continue to be high over the past decade, and 2006 was another summer of record heat waves in the United States. The conclusion is obvious: summers are going to continue to warm up.

    For hurricanes, the questions include atmospheric moisture trends, wind shear trends, ocean surface temperatures, and also the depth of the warm oceanic surface layer. The ocean is certainly warming up. No ocean cooling trends, or plausible mechanisms of ocean cooling, are to be seen. This will lead to warmer sea surface temperatures, and that should affect storm formation and duration. Wind shear will disrupt the formation of the hurricane structure, which is why there was interest in climate modeling studies that predicted increased wind shear as a result of global warming. See Hurricanes: Tempests in a Greenhouse, Emanuel 2006 for more.

    One can always ask the insurance modelers what they think: “Somewhat paradoxically, modeling is frequently “uncertain for those rare catastrophic events that cause the most claims,” the panel agreed”. It would be interesting to hear a debate between climate modelers and those who do forecasts for insurance companies – although I fear this will lead to a mad rush by university administrators and their lawyers to patent and license all climate models, under the guise of ‘public-private’ partnerships with the insurance industry.

  24. 124

    Are there other Hurricane predictions out there? I would like to hear from other opinions than the standard gang. U.K’s met office prediction seems daring, highly likely from numeric modeling. However I am looking for some human computer suaveness, a blend of the two should give some impeccable results. A purist modeler would dish its probalistic results, human input would force a recrunch of the numbers if the same model didn’t foresee this #1 temperature conditions so far. Dr Gray and others of his like would not care to notice that its the warmest year in history for the Northern Hemisphere to date, but this has implications with hurricane (intensity) as well as forest fires galore.

  25. 125
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE the Gallileo/Inquistion analogy, my thinking is that there’s a similarity in the “threatened world view” aspect. I teach mythology, which can also be understood as “folk science,” since the ancients were trying their best to figure out how the world works. So without our modern science, it makes sense that the sun is going across the sky and (in Chinese myth) is a fire bird (birds fly across the sky). Also that the sky is some dome or water, being held up by Atlas or some mountains (that were the body of a god-culture hero). And sometimes that water leaks out — we call it rain. Also in ancient times there was no distinction among science, religion, ethic, way of life — they were all bundled together.

    The ancients wrote their (divinely inspired) scriptures based on these very logical & empirically based ideas.

    I don’t know much about Church history, but I think they were against Gallileo’s ideas because they went against what was written in scripture, and if one part of scriptures is false, then the whole part might be false, or so the Church feared people might think, and they would miss salvation because of that — throw the baby out with the bath water. So, perhaps their intentions were not so bad, though their methods unacceptable. Likewise re evolution – it threatens scripture.

    Now global warming does not threaten scriptures (beyond these other aspects of science that contradict scriptures), so GW is not a threat to religion. In fact I think some Armageddon Christians might even see it as inevitable, AND due to human wickedness. But it is a threat to another religion — the modern Western way of life that says we should be industrious, use up resources, and make lots of money…more than the Joneses. Which, BTW, really goes against scripture big time…but you can’t tell American Christians that.

    So it is a world view problem.

    Anthropologists were slow to come to the consensus that we are VERY closely related to the apes…slower than if they’d been studying relatedness among several insect species or something. Likewise I think scientists were a bit slower in coming to a strong consensus on GW….it seems to threaten our way of life, and even more precious than that, our world view.

    To the extent that modern religions are tied into this modern religion of extravagant materialism, they have also been slow to speak out on GW, which is really one of the biggest moral issues of our times.

  26. 126

    Re: point of no return. The fact that the situation the world finds itself is unprecendented means that no scientist will or can tell you when the point of no return is. I’m an acupuncturists by trade and thus tend to think wholistically. When brain or cervical cancer is first apparent to the patient..when the patient begins to feel something isn’t right it’s usually too late to save them. Only by immediate and aggressive intervention can the patient hope to be saved. We may quite well have passed the point of no return but one thing’s for sure if we dont stop arguing about petty details and dont aggressively attack the global problem NOW it definaltely will be too late. Al Gore gave the time frame ten years..that’s ten years for the world leaders to mobilize on a cohesive stagegy..He didn’t say the point of no return is now..all-though he could quite well have done. Whether the tipping point is past tense, now or in a few years time..it still means one thing..to get off our butts and each individual-each one of us, to do all that we can do. Buy efficient light globes, car pool-solar heating/power, carbon-trade..whatever is at our disposal..do it NOW!!!

  27. 127

    You guys must have a zillion reports of strange weather where you live..I’ll just throw in my 2cents worth..Many cities on the eastern seaboard of australia have had their coldest and wettest june on record..this was following our hottest autumn on record and a couple of years back our hottest summer on record. Never since records began have we had 4 major low pressure systems develop off the south east coast. I have never seen soo many meteorological records smashed than over the last 12-18 months.

  28. 128
    Alex Nichols says:

    #127
    Similar picture in Britain & N.W. Europe:
    Record warm Autumn; Record warm Spring; Major floods now in June.

    Perhaps one problem is that everyone has been told about Global Warming, whereas it’s a simplification.
    Within that simplified overall description, there are quite complex details: Cooling of the upper atmosphere, changes in regional climate patterns, and most important of all – extreme weather events.

  29. 129
    nicolas L. says:

    “And as I said, the foundations of modern empirical science were laid down during the middle ages”

    This is right. But those first steps of modern science were not built by europeans, but by arabic mathematicians and astronomers (like Ibn al-Haytham, who is considered has the first to apply modern scientific methods). European science stagnated during whole of middle age and a great amount of well established scientific treaties from the classic period were lost, until the renaissance period, were Arabic sciences were introduced. The European “scientific revolution” didn’t begin until the mid of 16th century, mostly with Copernicus.

    Bruno was condamned for a whole buch of things, and certainly not for having defended Copernicus (it doesn’t appear in any document). But in the accusations was the explicit reference to its believe in the plurality of the worlds.

  30. 130

    [[I don't know much about Church history, but I think they were against Gallileo's ideas because they went against what was written in scripture, and if one part of scriptures is false, then the whole part might be false, or so the Church feared people might think, and they would miss salvation because of that -- throw the baby out with the bath water.]]

    Actually, they were against them because they went against Aristotle at a time when the proponents of the New Learning were trying to synthesize Aristotle with Christianity. That, and the fact that, like Bruno, Galileo couldn’t get along with anybody and was given to extravagantly insulting people who disagreed with him.

  31. 131
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #127, Lawrence, I’ve noticed from ClimateArk.org the many ways Australia is suffering from global warming — droughts, brush fires, coral reef die off, cyclones, heat, and now extreme cold (I figure if scientists cannot yet attribute all these in part to GW, then maybe in 10 years they will retrospectively be able to do so). My concerns are with you.

    My screenwriting group was discussing GW movies, and disaster movies, in general, and we mentioned ON THE BEACH. I saw it as a kid in the late 50s or early 60s. It was about nuclear war. All other places around the world had been affected and people had died. I vividly remember the empty streets of San Francisco that the recon jet spotted. Because Australia is far from Europe, Russia, & the U.S., it would take weeks for the fall out to come and kill off Australians.

    I told my group, it seems this time with GW, Australia is first.

    Anyway, we thought it would be good if someone very familiar with Australia would do a movie set there about global warming effects and portents. I think ON THE BEACH helped us not to get into a nuclear war; maybe an Australian GW movie would help the world wake up and take action.

  32. 132
    pete best says:

    No single weather event (such as the floods we are experiencing in the UK at the moment) can be attributed to climate change, however the frequency, duaration and intensity of those events are likely to increase.

    Climate scientists have forecast general weather patterns using climate models/simulations and they can tell us if weather events are indeed increasing in realtion to their models ?

    Or is that a tricky question to answer ?

  33. 133

    If anyone’s interested, I wrote a long rebuttal to Viscount Christopher Monckton’s infamous editorial which I then posted to the “climatebrains” forum. Posters there had been fawning over Monckton a great deal, so I thought the time was ripe for a reply. My post is at the Climate Forum area of http://www.climatebrains.com, in the “Politics and science make bad bedfellows” thread.

  34. 134
    Alex Nichols says:

    #132 This graph implies that they are:-

    http://www.environmenttimes.net/graphic.cfm?filename=trends_L.gif

  35. 135
    Timothy Chase says:

    Perhaps one problem is that everyone has been told about Global Warming, whereas it’s a simplification.

    Within that simplified overall description, there are quite complex details: Cooling of the upper atmosphere, changes in regional climate patterns, and most important of all – extreme weather events.

    Agreed – that is why many prefer to speak of “climate change,” but it may help to use both terms – using “global warming” to introduce “climate change.” Besides, the weakening of the ozone layer doesn’t really fit under the banner of “global warming” in the minds of many – any more than the acidification of the ocean. But its all part of the same process.

    I have a question: we know that increased water moisture in the stratosphere is slowing the repair of the ozone – is it likely to reverse it? At this point I myself am not thinking in terms of the destruction of the ozone layer -but the thinning of it and perhaps it getting a little moth-eaten.

  36. 136
    Rod B says:

    Excessive heat? GW. Drought? GW. Getting cold? GW. Wet and flooding? GW. Well, that all could be true, I suppose, but on the surface it sounds very pat and pavlovian.

  37. 137
    Calibabe says:

    I’m still curious about the Point of No return
    that Al mentioned. Are there any good papers I can read
    that show me the science behind this. This is really important. gavin? Mike? Stefan? can you explain this
    point of no return concept and why it happens in ten years?

  38. 138
    Dan says:

    re: 136. No. There is no “could” at all. If you read and understand the science of climate and climatology it is quite clear. *Global* warming is not necessarily specific to all points. That alone ought to be clear by now. Failure to understand the science is not grounds to dismiss it as “pat and pavlovian”. Rather it should make one want to learn about it and avoid pavlovian, dismissive skeptic remarks that have been discussed at length here. Take a climate or meteorology course or read a good basic introductory textbook at a library and you can learn about global weather patterns.

  39. 139
    Alex Nichols says:

    # 136

    The argument is more that the observed warming of the lower level atmosphere might also be correlated with more frequent and intense storms and flooding.

    One could just mention the severe flooding events in Western Europe over recent years e.g. in Germany & Central Europe 2002-3, Switzerland 1999 & 2005, and Britain 2004, 2007.

    Not only has there been loss of life, but the insurance claims must be in the billions by now, especially with severe flooding in major city centres like Leeds and Sheffield.
    see:-
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6240594.stm

    This question was raised, ever so tentatively, by the normally tenacious BBC interviewer Jeremy Paxman after the weather forecast last night. Poor Rob McElwee, the forecaster lumbered with giving the bad news, squirmed a bit between his personal and professional opinions, but said something to the effect:-
    “The more energy going into the system, the more coming out..”

    Of course, if the correlation is proven, it should all be part of the cost-benefit analysis of reducing emissions and, I suppose it could be argued that a timely warning had been given by the Real Climatologists.”

  40. 140
    Timothy Chase says:

    Rod B (#136) wrote:

    Excessive heat? GW. Drought? GW. Getting cold? GW. Wet and flooding? GW. Well, that all could be true, I suppose, but on the surface it sounds very pat and pavlovian.

    Rod,

    Ultimately it all comes down to precise analytic physics.

    For example, if you know the equation for how a single absorption line spreads as the result of pressure, that same equation will apply to each line of absorption, and to every gas. But there is still a fair amount of complexity. For example, how does convection take place in the ocean? The atmosphere? How do you describe turbulence? Average the behavior of turbulence with different sets of initial conditions? At that point you are probably talking about a numerical simulation, and not just one, but a great many.

    Or alternatively, you may be incorporating physics which is grounded in large part in empirical observations – so as to simplify the numerical calculations. But it is physics nevertheless. Moreover, the more observations one includes from more areas, at finer levels of detail, and under more varied conditions, the more justification you will have for a given model – ultimately for the same reason that you are able to figure out whether a given pair of dice are loaded by throwing the enough times.

  41. 141
    Timothy Chase says:

    Calibabe (#137) wrote:

    I’m still curious about the Point of No return that Al mentioned. Are there any good papers I can read that show me the science behind this. This is really important. gavin? Mike? Stefan? can you explain this point of no return concept and why it happens in ten years?

    There is no single point of no return. Even assuming the glaciers of Greenland melt, they will return in another 30,000 to 60,000 years. But there are various positive feedbacks.

    Here are a few:

    1. The more carbon dioxide you add to the atmosphere, the more its effects (in terms of the absorbtion of radiation) will be amplified by the evaporation of water leading to greater water vapor.

    2. The higher the temperatures go, the greater the loss of ice, glaciers, sea ice, and the higher the lower the albedo over the ocean and the soil in the arctic regions.

    3. Higher temperatures also mean that permafrost will melt, releasing methane as the result of organic decay.

    4. There is also the greater likelihood of shallow water methane hydrates releasing methane – and methane is about 21X more powerful than carbon dioxide.
    5. The higher the temperatures, the more soil will dry out in the temperate regions, leading to drought stress in plants combined with the heat stress which means that they will absorb less carbon dioxide.

    6. The higher the temperatures in the polar regions, the less carbon dioxide will be absorbed by the oceans until at some point it won’t even be able to hold the carbon dioxide which it already has and it will become a net emitter.

    7. The higher the rate of evaporation the greater the water vapor in the atmosphere leading to water vapor destroying ozone in the stratosphere, cooling of the stratosphere, the creation of a temperature differential between the lower and the upper, leading to increased winds near the surface, more upwelling of organic material from below, and the release of methane, some of which will result in further warming of the lower atmosphere.

    8. The more radiation is absorbed at lower latitudes, the greater the the poleward atmospheric and oceanic convection, meaning the more rapidly higher latitudes will warm, resulting in further ice loss, the less albedo, and the more sunlight will be absorbed at the surface.

    The problem is that all of these are either feeding into one another, or beginning to kick in so that in time they will be feeding into one another. And the longer they go on, the less they will be driven by our actions and the more the whole process will begin to take on a life of its own. The big “tipping-points” are the loss of Arctic sea ice, the large scale loss of glaciers in Greenland, the large scale loss of glaciers in the Western Antarctic Peninsula – and as both Greenland and the Western Antarctic Peninsula will raise the sea level considerably, there will be positive feedback between the two.

    But the biggest uncertainty in the whole equation is human action. Then again, the further we postpone action, the more we will be locked into current technologies with high carbon emissions and a higher population generating those emissions – partly as a result of industrial development in China and parts of the third world. One degree will probably be enough to set up positive feedback between Greenland and the Antarctic, but the higher the temperature the earlier the feedback will take place and the more chaotic it will be.

    Hope this helps!

    PS

    The most recent paper by Hansen would probably be a good start. I can look up the link a little later.

  42. 142
    kainin says:

    LV:[[I don't know much about Church history, but I think they were against Gallileo's ideas because they went against what was written in scripture, and if one part of scriptures is false, then the whole part might be false, or so the Church feared people might think, and they would miss salvation because of that -- throw the baby out with the bath water.]]

    PBL: “Actually, they were against them because they went against Aristotle at a time when the proponents of the New Learning were trying to synthesize Aristotle with Christianity. That, and the fact that, like Bruno, Galileo couldn’t get along with anybody and was given to extravagantly insulting people who disagreed with him.”

    As a long time lurker here (2nd post in two years of reading), I just had to say hi to pbl for this one. Thanks for the best laugh in this 141 posts thread (so far). After reading what probably amounts to hundreds of your extremely self-assured and frequently caustic retorts to others with different viewpoints, I have to ask whether you appreciate the irony in this one as much as I do. Beautiful. I always enjoy your posts.

    cheers,

    kainin

    Great ideas often receive violent opposition from mediocre minds.
    A. Einstein

  43. 143
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE my post #125, another aspect of the Gallileo-GW denialist analogy might be this: I read somewhere that the Church hierarchy actually believed Gallileo was correct (or could be), but were afraid this knowledge would harm the people. Likewise, SURELY Bush & co actually believe anthropogenic global warming is happening (even though there may be some little people denialists who actually disbelieve AGW), but they fear it would be bad for the big businesses (like oil) that they are involved in and beholden to.

    RE the POINT OF NO RETURN, I would define it as that point at which our efforts to reduce our GHGs — even if we could reduce by 75% — will not be enough to stop the warming process, which will take on a life of its own through natural feedbacks.

    Also in #141, re Point 5, you could probably add in forest and brush fires made more likely by drought, dry soil & herbage, and high winds (impacted by GW).

  44. 144
    nicolas L. says:

    re 135

    Almost total recovery of the ozone layer is expected during the second half of 21th century. Climate Changes will slow it down apparently, but hopefully will not stop the recovery process due to Ozone Depleting Substances progressive ban. You can find all the details you want here (you can skip to the “twenty questions about ozone layer” to make it faster :)):
    http://ozone.unep.org/Assessment_Panels/SAP/Scientific_Assessment_2006/

    The interesting thing to note about ozone issue is that, though ozone depletion and global warming are two different problems, the ban of Ozone depleting substances seems to have had a positive impact on the reduction of GHG (or to speak more properly, a reduction of the increase of ghg). Indeed, ODS are also GHG (with global warming potentials thousands of times higher than CO2), and it as been estimated in a study published at the beginning of the year that their progressive ban as had the impact of an 8 Gtons equ.CO2 /year mitigation in ghg releases since 1990. It’s not excessive compared to the overall 50 Gt equ CO2/year emissions, but that’s a start.

    “The importance of the Montreal Protocol in protecting climate”
    Guus J. M. Velders, Stephen O. Andersen, John S. Daniel, David W. Fahey and Mack McFarland
    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/104/12/4814

  45. 145
    Timothy Chase says:

    Lynn Vincentnathan (#143) wrote:

    Also in #141, re Point 5, you could probably add in forest and brush fires made more likely by drought, dry soil & herbage, and high winds (impacted by GW).

    Herbage – that would be where plants result in shade which helps to keep the soil from drying out and might reduce the effects of wind that would result in evaporation? I hear that there will be other local feedbacks which will cummulatively have a global effect. With regard to the forest fires, I understand that they could play an important role in the possible transition of the Amazon river basin to desert – although this is at least partly in our hands since such fires tend to occur near human settlements.

  46. 146
  47. 147
    Philippe Chantreau says:

    Kainin, could you be more specific? What great climate ideas are you refering to?

  48. 148
    M Weirick says:

    Re: #22 – BPL -
    By any chance is there any way short of joining the Royal Society to get a copy of the Tyndall reference?

    “Tyndall, John (1861). “On the Absorption and Radiation of Heat by Gases and Vapours…” Philosophical Magazine ser. 4, 22: 169-94, 273-85. ”

    The copyright has probably run out by now….

  49. 149

    [[By any chance is there any way short of joining the Royal Society to get a copy of the Tyndall reference?]]

    Good question. There must be a way to do it, because Spencer Weart did it for his book. I know I’ve seen at least part of the text somewhere, though I can’t recall where offhand. I’m guessing it was probably reprinted somewhere, in some volume of classic climatology papers. Has anyone out there seen a copy?

  50. 150
    Dan G says:

    I hesitate to submit this . . . I don’t wish to come off sounding like Ted Moran and I realize that I’m coming perilously close . . . but then my issue is one of policy with few specifics to fudge . . . . I also realize that you wish to restrict discussions to science, but you haven’t ignored policy (how can you — really), and often your commentators state in frustration that we know so much about the science — what we really need is policy.

    ClimatePolicy.org seemed to offer a forum for policy discussions and the website seemed moderated (Paul Higgens) and even hosted regularly, even if it was not the most active website around — how can it be, given the subject. However, I have not been able to get a rise out of anyone there since June 25, despite having posted an outline for a global policy which should have elicited some response. No one has gone out of their way here to praise the American Meteorological Society and I don’t know who their connections are, and I am focussing on one certain group of industrialists, and the whole thing is making me uneasy and a little distressed. I do wish and hope that I could convince just one person to go over there and read my (longish) entry. Ugh, it is difficult to advocate for oneself — a large part of the reason why any lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.

    I don’t wish to oblige anyone here to respond to me, so if I don’t here back, or perhaps only see some vague reference to hair-brained policy schemes (which I very much doubt) on one of your threads, I will understand.


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