February 21, 2006
Consensus Statement on Hurricanes and Global Warming
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters
Under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization’s Commission on Atmospheric Sciences, its Tropical Meteorology Research Program Panel has just issued a statement on hurricanes and global warming (here in PDF).
The statement is significant not only because it was drafted by nine prominent experts, but because it includes in its authorship Kerry Emanuel, Greg Holland (second author of Webster et al. 2005), Ton Knutson, and Chris Landsea. Frequent readers will recognize these names as people not always in agreement. That they came together to produce a consensus statement is good for the community, and also gives a good sense on where they agree and disagree.
While the statement has enough background and language to allow anyone to selectively cherry pick from it in support of any perspective, here is the take-home message from the statement
“The research issues discussed here are in a fluid state and are the subject of much current investigation. Given time the problem of causes and attribution of the events of 2004-2005 will be discussed and argued in the refereed scientific literature. Prior to this happening it is not possible to make any authoritative comment.”
Therefore, for those of us not involved in primary research on hurricanes and climate change, any conclusions, or predictions about how future research will turn out, about the role of global warming in hurricanes will necessarily be based on non-scientific factors. If you are like the IPCC, then you will assume that observed climate phenomena can be explained by natural variability unless and until the thresholds of “detection and attribution” can be achieved. This is a high threshold for identification of greenhouse gas effects on climate, and it is of course not the only approach that could be taken. But it is the approach of the IPCC.
If you are politically or ideologically motivated to use the threat of stronger hurricanes in pursuit of some goal, then you will bet that a link will indeed be established. And similarly, if you are politically or ideologically motivated to discount the threat of stronger hurricanes in pursuit of some goal, then you will bet that no link is immediately forthcoming.
The reality is that the present state of science does not allow us to come to a conclusion that global warming has affected hurricanes (e.g., see this PDF). It is suggestive, and different experts disagree about what future research will tell us. I’d bet that this condition of uncertainty about future research will be with us for a long time. Thank goodness its resolution is not of particularly large importance for understanding and implementing those actions known with certainty to be most effective with respect to hurricane impacts (e.g., here in PDF).Posted on February 21, 2006 06:56 AM
Congratulations! Your position has been vindicated all around. Here is a media link to the report.
Will the MSM pick this up, I wonder?
It will be interesting to see whether consensus-dogmatics suddenly turn to consensus-sceptics now that their 'man-made' hurricanes "framing" has been put off the menu.
I bet the coming hurricane season will turn into a real catch-22 dilemma for our climate alarmists who - almost inevitably - will be tempted to ignore or even doubt the WMO consensus. Some might even turn to FUD :-)
Posted by: Benny Peiser at February 21, 2006 08:26 AM
Seeing as how this is a properly scientific statement that simply says "we don't know" it is unlikely to gain much MSM attention.
Benny, who are you thinking of when you say "consensus dogmatics" and have any such claimed a clear link between AGW and hurricanes? I surely recall journalists with rather certain headlines, though I don't recall articles that failed to acknowledge in the body that it is a contested opinion.
Posted by: coby at February 21, 2006 10:47 AM
Well, I was thinking of the usual suspects, people like Ross Gelbspan or the British Government's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King
Will they accept that their Katrina statements were a bit, shall we say, alarmist? I rather doubt it.
Posted by: Benny Peiser at February 21, 2006 01:21 PM
One puzzles over Benny's apparent enthusiasm in this case for expert consensus statements in the area of climate change. Does this extend to expert consensus statements in general? Do you think this is a useful exercise, as a general matter, to help non-specialists such as ourselves gain an understanding of the state of science on important technical questions related to climate change?
I happen to think the answer is "yes," but that's apparently led me to some different conclusions about the broad state of climate science than what I understand Benny's views to be.
Posted by: John Fleck at February 21, 2006 05:50 PM
Science based on “consensus” is a tricky business indeed. I’m agnostic about it because the history of science tells us that today’s consensus can, and quite frequently is, tomorrow’s redundant theory. There are certain types of general agreement in science that are more compelling and more durable than others. In some areas of empirical science, like solar system astronomy, there is more agreement because the data is more robust and the methods less complex. The more complex the science and the less reliable the data, the more scientific controversy you’ll expect to find.
On the other hand we also know that science tends to work on, in fact needs to be based on paradigms, which is perhaps a better word than consensus. So I have really no problems with the fact of majority views: we do need texts book after all. But science would be dead without the constant, necessary attempts to falsify the leading paradigm of the day, particularly those that are weak and based on contentious data and methodologies.
We also know from the history of science that there are very different types of researchers. More authoritarian personalities prefer to preserve the status quo and to protect the ruling paradigm from doubt and criticism. In fact, some people go into science because they can't live with uncertainty and seriously believe that science will provide them with truth an certainty. That's the kind of activity the majority of researchers tend to engage in, as Kuhn has shown. More rebellious personalities, in contrast, tend to go against the grain, no matter what. As far as I am concerned, I try to keep an open mind on many scientific controversies. I’m quite happy to live with a certain degree of ambiguity. I am also allergic to both atheistic and religious dogmatics and fundamentalists.
The ongoing controversy about hurricanes and global warming is a perfect example of the predicaments of consensus science. For a long time, and until fairly recently, natural variability was the lead paradigm underlying the dynamic changes in hurricane frequency and intensity (http://www.bom.gov.au/info/CAS-statement.pdf). In the last 12 months, a couple of new papers published in Science and Nature have cast doubt over this long-established paradigm. Some people jumped to conclusions and claimed: “The old paradigm is dead – long live the new paradigm!”
I am not 'enthusiastic' about the latest “consensus” statement on hurricanes and global warming. It is noteworthy, however, that it maintains rather than overturns the old paradigm. At the same time, it cautions about the weight of the new papers. I believe this is an encouraging development because it would appear to raise the requirements for overthrowing old paradigms.
Remember the process that removed from the old IPCC consensus the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age and replaced it with the new Hockey Stick consensus? (http://www.john-daly.com/hockey/hockey.htm). Of course it is very difficult to accept such paradigms for people who know just how contentious both the data and the methodologies are that were used to establish them. The same is true for the thorny issue of sea level rise: is it steady (as the IPCC claims) or is it accelerating, as consensus-breakers claim? I guess if you were to ask sea level researchers, they might come to a similar conclusion to that of the hurricane researchers: a couple of new papers do not permit that a long-established conclusion can be suddenly overturned.
In my philosophy of science both the protectors and challengers of each and every paradigmn are essential to the health and dynamic of a highly competitive enterprise that is science. And it is in the very nature of science that we won't take the same side in each case.
Posted by: Benny Peiser at February 22, 2006 08:31 AM
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. In large part I agree with the general thrust of your characterization of how science works. As a regular and enthusiastic reader of CCnet, though, I have a frustration with with appears to be an inconsistent application of the framework you just described.
There are cases, as in the hurricane example we're discussing here, where your postings tend to defend the paradigm/consensus (I think we're both using these words a bit loosely, but they'll do for this) against the work of what you so charmingly called the "rebellious personalities." There are cases, as in the solar-climate issue I've criticized you for elsewhere, where you enthusiastically embrace the challengers in their assault on the protectors.
The result seems entirely consistent in terms of the politics of the issue, but not terribly consistent in terms of which part of the science, challengers or protectors, that you choose to embrace.
And your analysis still begs the critical question. If the science is of no great political or public policy import - say, black holes, to cite my favorite example - we non-specialists can simply sit back, enjoy the debates, and wait. But if public policy decisions are required, how do we make them in a way that's robust to the uncertainty inherent in the constant protector/challenger debates that are inherent in any interesting field? My own answer to this question is to turn to the sort of expert/consensus reviews that we're talking about here, and use them to guide our non-specialists' understanding of the science at hand.
Posted by: John Fleck at February 22, 2006 09:56 AM
I think you are right about CCNet. Its content and emphasis is a reflection of my own, personal biases. And I don't always get it right either. But my editorial policy is absolutely clear in that I attempt to provide *all* relevant information and arguments so that CCNet readers can make up their own minds.
With regards to the important issue of science policy, I feel that Roger's Prometheus is doing an exceptionally good and very enlightening job. That it is even more difficult to come to a policy consensus on dealing with climate change is one of the key lessons we've learned from the many debates on this website.
Posted by: Benny Peiser at February 22, 2006 10:38 AM
I anxiously await Benny's perusing and parsing of the referenced literature, like he did on the last consensus statement.
Any idea when you'll have that done, Ben?
Posted by: Dano at February 22, 2006 06:18 PM
Can I suggest that readers interested in the publications of consensus sceptics consult the (incomplete) reference list compiled annually by Timo Hämeranta, the moderator of the "Climatesceptics" mailing list.
My own views on claims that there is a 'unanimous' scientific consensus on global warming are well known.
Posted by: Benny Peiser at February 23, 2006 04:49 AM
John Fleck writes, "My own answer to this question is to turn to the sort of expert/consensus reviews that we're talking about here, and use them to guide our non-specialists' understanding of the science at hand."
Probably the most important question regarding global warming is the amount of global warming change that can be expected to occur under "business as usual." For example, if everyone agreed that under "business as usual," the earth was going to warm by more than 10 degrees Celsius in the next 100 years, almost everyone would probably agree that "business as usual" was clearly not acceptable. Conversely, if everyone agreed under "business as usual" that the warming was likely to be less than 1 degree Celsius, most people would probably agree that "business as usual" is not particularly problematic.
I've repeatedly written that the IPCC Third Assessment Report projections for methane atmospheric concentrations, CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations, and resultant temperature increases constitute the greatest fraud in the history of environmental science.
I think any educated, intelligent, and open-minded layperson can come up with good evaluation of the truth or falsity of that assessment with less than 20 hours of effort. I'd be happy to lead any interested layperson through such an evaluation.
Posted by: Mark Bahner at February 23, 2006 10:10 AM
Not quite a "consensus" apparently - an update has been added to the original press release:
"*EDITOR’S NOTE: This consensus in this on-line magazine story represents the views of some NOAA hurricane researchers and forecasters, but does not necessarily represent the views of all NOAA scientists. It was not the intention of this article to discount the presence of a human-induced global warming element or to attempt to claim that such an element is not present. There is a robust, on-going discussion on hurricanes and climate change within NOAA and the scientific community.
The headline and paragraph could have more clearly stated:
“Agreement Among Some NOAA Hurricane Researchers and Forecasters”
There is agreement among a number of NOAA hurricane researchers and forecasters that recent increases in hurricane activity are primarily the result of natural fluctuations in the tropical climate system known as the tropical multi-decadal signal.” "
Posted by: guest at February 23, 2006 09:35 PM
Thanks. Though the WMO statement post-dates the press release correction that you mention, which we discussed here:
Posted by: Roger Pielke Jr. at February 23, 2006 09:50 PM
This reaction is exactly what I've expected: "Not quite a "consensus" apparently ..." I'm sure we'll hear more such consensus scepticism on the issue of hurricanes and global warming. It would appear that we're all sceptics now: One man's consensus is another man's disagreement.
Now here's a thought: Wouldn't it be nice if every new paper or news story on climate change would provide this health warning:
"The consensus in this story represents the views of some/most researchers and forecasters, but does not necessarily represent the views of all scientists. There is a robust, on-going discussion on climate change within the scientific community."
Posted by: Benny Peiser at February 24, 2006 05:13 AM
The problem with Benny Peiser's pretend is that a realistic statement would be:
"The consensus in this story represents the views of almost all researchers and forecasters in the field. There are a very few who object to the broad conclusion, and many who disagree on the details. There is a robust, on-going discussion on the details of climate change within the scientific community but do not be mislead into believing that the basic conclusions are in doubt."
As to what the consensus is, you could do worse than http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=86
1. The earth is getting warmer (0.6 +/- 0.2 oC in the past century; 0.1 0.17 oC/decade over the last 30 years (see update)) [ch 2]
I've put those four points in rough order of certainty. The last one is in brackets because whilst many would agree, many others (who agree with 1-3) would not, at least without qualification. It's probably not a part of the core consensus in the way 1-3 are.
Posted by: Rabett at February 26, 2006 12:03 PM
Rabett wrote "As to what the consensus is, you could do worse than [Realclimate]" - well definately the report from the 3rd TAR created that as the consensus but considering that Mann et al still don't have the confidence to publish all their data sources and workings, I'll stay a skeptic...
Posted by: John Lish at February 26, 2006 07:11 PM
The analysis and public excitement about claims that we see NOW the effect of (the ongoing) global warming on Hurricane activity reminds me on a similar episode we had in Northern Europe in the early 1990s. At that time we had in fact seen an increase of storminess since about 1960 (or less), and we had suitable data for assessing this trend only since about 1960, when the first good weather analysis became available. Data prior to that time, such as historical weather maps, were inhomogeneous. It turned later out (e.g. by the work of the European project WASA) that prior to 1960 there was a tendeny of weakening the storm activity, and that after about 1995 in most parts of Western Europe the trend reversed.
What we should learn from this episode is - for determining that we have anthropogenic signals, we need homogeneous time series of 100 years or more. And we have to take into account the tendency of the climate system to exhibit multi-decadal variability for natural reasons.
Thus, even if climate models point towards an intensification of hurriane activity, it is likely too early that we may discriminate such anthropgenic signals from the high level of natural decadal variability.
Posted by: Hans von Storch at February 26, 2006 07:34 PM
To avoid misunderstanding, I should have written explicity that I share the assessment of Rabett on Feb 26. I am convinced that we see since a few years a trend in warming which can not be explained by natural factors but only when GHG forcing is considered. This does not mean that at the same time man-made signals can be detected in hurriance or NE Atlantic storminess statistics.
Posted by: Hans von Storch at February 26, 2006 07:41 PM
As I see it, the debate about hurricanes and global warming focuses, among others things, on the philosophical question as to what constitutes a scientific "consensus." It raises the question of how, why and in what way a "consensus" is and should be questioned and asks about the process that will finally decide whether or not today's consensus-challengers will become tomorrow's new consensus-kings.
I think this is a valuable discussion as the re-assessment of any given scientific paradigm/consensus is happening all the time and on numerous climate change issues (such as the debates on sea level rise or the hockey stick to mention just two more prominent controversies).
But the debate also raises another question: why should researchers be sceptical about certain scientific agreements but not others? Should scepticism only be an acceptable attitude when the consensus is weak but not when it is strong? And are researchers who question the majority consensus, or certain points of it, less respectable than those who try to protect the majority view?
It would appear that his debate is not so much about the unquestionable fact of the AGW paradigm, i.e. Rabett's points 1-3, but about the strengths or weaknesses of each individual point and whether questioning any of them in itself goes against the scientific method.
To put these questions into context, see e.g. this essay:
... Public statements by noted German climate researchers give the impression that the scientific bases of the climate problem have essentially been solved. Thus science has provided the prerequisites for us now to react appropriately to the goal; meaning, in this case, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible.
This does not at all reflect the situation in the scientific community. A considerable number of climatologists are still by no means convinced that the fundamental questions have been adequately dealt with. Thus, in the last year a survey among climate researchers throughout the world found that a quarter of the respondents still harbor doubts about the human origin of the most recent climatic changes.
The majority of researchers are indeed of the opinion that global climate change caused by human activity is occurring, that it will accelerate in the future, and that it will thus become more readily apparent. This change will be accompanied by warmer temperatures and a higher water level. In the more distant future, that is, in about 100 years, a considerable increase of atmospheric greenhouse gases is foreseen, together with an increase in precipitation in our latitudes; in some regions there could be more powerful storms, in others weaker ones. ...
Posted by: Benny Peiser at February 27, 2006 07:22 AM
Benny Peiser writes, "It would appear that (t)his debate is not so much about the unquestionable fact of the AGW paradigm, i.e. Rabett's points 1-3,..."
Hold on a minute! Point #3 was:
"3. If GHG emissions continue, the warming will continue and indeed accelerate [ch 9]"
The simple fact is that the IPCC TAR's "projections" for methane atmosheric concentrations, CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations, and resultant temperature increases constitute blatant scientific fraud.
I challenge William Connolley (the spinmeister author of point #3) or anyone else to argue otherwise.
In fact, we could hold the debate at "Real Climate." (But that would be a little too real for "Real Climate," wouldn't it? ;-))
Posted by: Mark Bahner at February 27, 2006 10:07 AM
Projections are projections. They are used for adaptive management purposes.
You fail to understand (constantly, always, yet again) that projections are not derived scientifically, so they cannot be a scientfic fraud. Wake up. The rest of us will keep the cotton in our ears while you ululate.
And if you must put quotes around projections, this indicates you don't know enough about the subject to speak to it.
Posted by: Dano at February 27, 2006 12:13 PM
"Thus, in the last year a survey among climate researchers throughout the world found that a quarter of the respondents still harbor doubts about the human origin of the most recent climatic changes. "
Benben, you already know that survey (that you didn't name or link to...golly, wonder why...) was found to have methodological issues, why do you continue to bring it up?
Oh, wait: never mind - if you didn't have stuff like that, you'd have nothing. My bad! Carry on.
Posted by: Dano at February 27, 2006 12:20 PM
There is nothing wrong about being sceptical about survey methodologies. In fact, such scepticism is very healthy. Welcome to the club! However, denying the very existence of these surveys or their results doesn't help this "consensus" debate, does it.
As things stand, this would appear to be a fair summary:
"Surveys have shown scientists unevenly split on the issue of whether global warming theory has been adequately proven, with a majority agreeing that global warming will occur in future if human behavior does not change."
I suggest that sceptics who don't like these results should conduct their own survey and see whether they can produce the unanimous consensus some people believe exists.
Posted by: Benny Peiser at February 28, 2006 02:03 AM
Dano writes, "Projections are projections. They are used for adaptive management purposes."
No, the IPCC TAR's "projections" for atmospheric methane concentrations, CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations, and resultant temperature increases were developed for the purpose of scaring the lay public and politicians into supporting mandated reductions in CO2 and methane emissions. Anyone who claims otherwise is either not fully informed or not fully honest.
"You fail to understand (constantly, always, yet again) that projections are not derived scientifically,..."
The IPCC TAR's "projections" may not be derived scientifically, but that doesn't mean all projections CAN'T be derived scientifically. Look at 3-day and 5-day projections for hurricane paths, for example. Do you think the hurricane path projections aren't derived scientifically?
And do you honestly STILL think that projecting future methane atmospheric concentrations, CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations, and resulting temperatures is like projecting future lottery numbers? (See my comment at 4:36 PM on June 17, 2005, on my blog.)
Or do you now understand, for example, how knowledge of science can lead to the conclusion that the methane atmospheric concentration projections in the IPCC TAR are laughably high?
I'm wide awake. Are you still as ignorant as you were when you were ululating about how projecting future methane atmospheric concentrations, CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentrations, and resulting temperatures was like projecting future lottery numbers? (See above.)
"And if you must put quotes around projections, this indicates you don't know enough about the subject to speak to it."
I know plenty about the subject. (And if you think you know more than I do, why don’t you offer to give Andrew Dessler a hand? See postscript.)
I put quotes around the IPCC’s "projections," so lay people will understand that the word as the IPCC uses it (i.e., to scare people) is not the same as when, for example, hurricane forecasters use the word. That is, hurricane forecasters use the word "projection" in an honest and scientific manner. The IPCC uses the word “projection” in a dishonest attempt to scare people.
P.S. Since you apparently think you know something about projecting future methane atmospheric concentrations, CO2 emissions, and resultant temperatures, why don’t you offer your services to Andrew Dessler? He still hasn’t responded to my Fabulous Free Money Offer (see my comments beginning February 17). Perhaps you could offer to help him, for a cut of the money. ;-)
Posted by: Mark Bahner at February 28, 2006 10:13 AM
Say, Ben, why don't you link to the survey so folk can see for themselves why the conclusions might be problematic; that is: rather than hand-wave and dissemble, why don't you use the survey you like so much as an example?
Posted by: Dano at February 28, 2006 11:18 AM
Mark, I haven't checked your site lately but sincerely hope you haven't deleted all of your prematurely triumphalist prognostications on Iraq from a couple years ago. While the satirical value of that material grows on an almost daily basis, it's still good for a little compare and contrast to help decide how much weight to put on your climate stuff.
Posted by: Steve Bloom at February 28, 2006 02:47 PM
Steve Bloom writes, "Mark, I haven't checked your site lately but sincerely hope you haven't deleted all of your prematurely triumphalist prognostications on Iraq from a couple years ago."
What a stunningly dishonest/insane comment. Of course, you're no stranger to stunningly dishonest/insane comments, are you Steve?
After all, you're the man who (HILARIOUSLY!) proclaimed that the environmental movement was NOT "leftist"! (Bwahahahahaha! That still cracks me up!)
Here is the blog post to which you're referring:
That post was written on September 1, 2003. The post concludes with the following statement, "But if we compare Iraq to Vietnam, or even Korea, it's pretty hard to see where the word "quagmire" comes from."
Let’s review some events in Iraq since September 1, 2003:
1) Saddam Hussein captured, December 2003. (Since Uday and Qusay were killed in July 2003, that means that neither Saddam nor his sons will ever regain control of the government of Iraq.)
2) Elections of interim government in January 2005.
3) Draft of constitution, and approval of constitution by nationwide referendum, October 2005.
4) Election of permanent government in January 2006.
So we have:
1) Vietnam: 55,000 mostly conscripted U.S. troops killed, over a period of more than a decade, and immediately as the U.S. leaves, a communist dictatorship is set up in South Vietnam that is still there today (more than 30 years later).
2) Korea: 53,000 mostly conscripted U.S. troops killed, over a period of more than 3 years. The war leaves a communist dictatorship in North Korea that is still there today…more than 50 years later. Additionally, the U.S. STILL has 25,000 troops in South Korea…again, more than 50 years later. Furthermore, South Korea was ranked by Freedom House as “not free” as late as 1973…nearly 20 years after the truce that ended the fighting.
3) Iraq: Approximately 2,300 entirely volunteer U.S. troops killed, over a period of 3 years. Saddam Hussein and his government completely driven from power, never to return. Several nationwide free and fair elections, including ratification of a constitution. Further, as early as next year, Iraq will probably have a Freedom House freedom ranking that’s higher than South Korea’s was 19 years after the truce that ended the Korean War. And Iraq ALREADY has a higher Freedom House freedom ranking than either North Korea (50+ years after the truce!) or Vietnam (30+ years after the U.S. withdrew, which enabled the South Vietnamese to be enslaved by the communists from the North).
So you can go back to your lying/fantisizing (a leftist specialty, eh?)...the facts don't support you at all.
P.S. Did I tell you I found a 2004 Sierra Club nationwide list of voter recommendations? Over 95% Democrats, by my initial eyeballing (and the rest divided about equally between Independents/Republicans). But of course that just makes the Sierra Club "middle of the road" to you, doesn't it? Bwahahahaha!
Posted by: Mark Bahner at February 28, 2006 07:51 PM
Ah yes, elections. Mark, there were many elections in Vietnam during the late unpleasantness and they were all hailed as the light at the end of the tunnel, evidence that the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese were losing and more. And they were not.
Here is an example of how the agitprop is being recycled http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/GRO502A.html
Posted by: Eli Rabett at March 1, 2006 10:49 AM
Someone forgot to mention the schooooools! The schooooooools! c'mon, everyone! Clap harder! Clap as hard as Bahner!
Posted by: Dano at March 1, 2006 10:52 AM
Dano, Eli, Mark, Steve- We're pretty far off topic here, please exchange email addresses and carry your conversation on there, Thanks!
Posted by: Roger Pielke Jr. at March 1, 2006 11:14 AM
I'd be quite happy if you deleted all these comments as "off topic":
1) Steve Bloom at February 28, 2006 02:47 PM
2) Mark Bahner at February 28, 2006 07:51 PM
3) Eli Rabett at March 1, 2006 10:49 AM
4) Dano at March 1, 2006 10:52 AM
The only reason I responded to Steve Bloom at all was that his characterization of my post (on Iraq) on my blog was so blatantly false.
Posted by: Mark Bahner at March 1, 2006 06:00 PM
It's too bad there is so much attempted ad hominem activity by people who would rather attempt to squelch others with different viewpoints than to educate - e.g. Rabett's unsupported slanders of Singer and Lindzen, except for a weak guilt by association argument.
Posted by: Steve Hemphill at March 2, 2006 06:26 AM