November 14, 2006
More Climate and Disaster Nonsense
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change | Disasters
Debunking nonsense related to disaster losses and climate change is getting to be a full time job. The latest misleading information is uncritically reported by Reuters and comes from a report commissioned by UNEP. Reuters reports:
Losses from extreme weather could top $1 trillion in a single year by 2040, a partnership of the United Nations Environment Programme and private finance institutions (UNEP FI) warned on Tuesday.
The $1 trillion figure comes from a report commissioned by UNEP, released today (PDF). The report states:
The following scenario constructed by Andlug Consulting presents one possible pathway that climatic losses might follow in coming decades, and suggests how the financial sector might be affected. It is NOT a prediction, but like all scenarios, is intended to explore the future so that better plans can be made.
The $1 trillion is therefore not linked to global warming but an extension of current loss trends into the future. This is a point that we made at the AGU one year ago and which was reported responsibly by Kenneth Chang of the New York Times 11 December, 2005 (link, registration required). That NYT article said, "With wealth and property values increasing, and more people moving to vulnerable coasts, by the year 2020 a single storm could cause losses of $500 billion -- several times the damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina." It is no stretch to get from $500B in 2020 to $1 trillion by 2040. Of course, the size of the economy grows over that time frame as well.
Further, the UNEP analysis was prepared by Andlug Consulting, which is run by Andrew Dlugolecki, a participant in our Hohenkammer workshop of last May. At the workshop all participants agreed to the following consensus statements (report):
Because of issues related to data quality, the stochastic nature of extreme event impacts, length of time series, and various societal factors present in the disaster loss record, it is still not possible to determine the portion of the increase in damages that might be attributed to climate change due to GHG emissions . . . In the near future the quantitative link (attribution) of trends in storm and flood losses to climate changes related to GHG emissions is unlikely to be answered unequivocally.
Hence, the projection of the possibility of a $1 trillion disaster year is independent of projected effects of human-caused changes to the climate system on the intensity or frequency of extreme events.
Bottom line: The UNEP report does not say what the representative of UNEP said it did. Nor does it say what has been reported in the major media, including the Reuters report. This is unfortunate because the UNEP-report has some valuable information on the importance of adaptation in the face of continuing growth in vulnerability to disasters. Effective policy on climate is unlikely to develop if the UN and the media are providing misleading or incorrect analyses. As Richard Tol said here last week, unsound analyses only provide fodder for those skeptical of action on climate change.Posted on November 14, 2006 05:20 PM
I want to say that Richard Tol is right when he says that "unsound analyses only provide fodder for those skeptical of action on climate change".
Posted by: Sylvain at November 15, 2006 04:14 AM
Many years ago, 16 to be exact, I was a member of an 'activist group' that took up the AGW banner. At the time, I was deeply concerned about the threat of AGW and felt the new focus was a good thing. Then I started to notice a disconnect between the scientific papers I was reading and the fundraising mail I received from the organization. Any science that didn't support the organization's world view was ignored, or misquoted and dismissed. Papers that did support the world view were heralded, but also misquoted, making the potential crisis seem worse than the science actually supported.
Nothing has changed in the last 16 years regarding activist groups who depend on contributions to survive. The first rule of fund raising seems to be 'exaggerate the crisis'. I believe this holds true in politics and in the government funding of scientific research as well.
Whenever your group's financial survival or level of influence, depends on convincing people to give up their money to prevent them from experiencing a serious calamity, it always pays to exaggerate the threat. At least until they become wise to you. Then you are toast!
I believe this is exactly the point Roger is making when he laments the comments of Paul Clements-Hunt of UNEP.
Of course, in a world of 6 billion people, it takes a while for everyone to get wise; and as the saying goes, "There's a sucker born every minute".
Posted by: Jim Clarke at November 15, 2006 10:18 AM
I’m not a climate science researcher, I work in water treatment, but we face much the same issue in reviewing published studies. Over the 30 years since I left college with a Chemical Engineering degree, I’ve seen far too many studies published in which the conclusions didn’t match the body of the paper or wouldn’t stand up if the peer reviewers had taken the time required to really check the work. In that time, I’ve developed a feel for where to find the most accurate data on health affects, chemical reactions, how to remove something from water, etc. The following list is ordered from generally the most reliable data to generally the least reliable data. Of course anyone can find specific exceptions in any category.
1. Unsponsored Academic research – rarely found anymore since no one will get a post doc if they can’t bring in “extramural” funds as the employment ads in the back of Science put it.
2. Industrial or Industrially sponsored Academic research by large multi-nationals with huge product lines – If Company A can’t sell you product B today, they’ll sell you product C tomorrow unless they’ve ruined their reputation by lying about product B. Unfortunately, some of this is only available if you are consulting for Company A.
3. Academic research sponsored by non-regulatory agencies – they generally don’t have any axes to grind (other than the usual academic/governmental political wrangling)
5. Academic research sponsored by regulatory agencies – If a researcher finds nothing requiring regulation, they’ll have to look elsewhere for their next grant.
6. Research done by or sponsored by non-profit organizations – If they can’t convince the public that a serious situation exists which can only be remedied by sending the organization money, they cease to exist.
Posted by: JimK at November 15, 2006 03:46 PM
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has been lobbying for a policy that would per se exclude from federal advisory committees (including peer review panels) scientists who work for industry or who have been paid by industry to do most anything.
CSPI also maintains a database of such scientists; it is quite transparently a blacklist. It is hard to figure out what effect the blacklist has had on scientists, but I have anecdotal evidence indicating that some highly respected scientists have been intimidated.
The blacklist extends to nonprofits and universities that have received corporate funding.
I blogged on the subject here:
Posted by: Richard Belzer at November 15, 2006 09:23 PM
Thanks for the link. The issue of industry scientists on advisory panels is a subject I would like to return to here sometime soon.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at November 15, 2006 10:16 PM
Like Sylvain above, I too have been inspired by "State of Fear". I am neither a scientist nor an academic. Rather, I am someone who is simply trying to understand the issues and implictions surrounding Climate Change.
I believe that Global Warming is happening and I believe that industry and Governments need to enact appropriate policy decisons.
I live in a suburb of Vancouver BC Canada that lies on the Delta of The Fraser River.
A few months ago the Sierra Club issued some graphics that were apparently prepared with various warming models that showed that much of the Greater Vancouver Regional district would be flooded in the not so distant future.
Local media and National news are reporting the "looming catastrophe."
This morning, George Monbiot was touting his book on a popular morning radio program. He is considered a hero by one of our local commentators http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/editorial/story.html?id=cd38c552-8ad0-4952-9ad2-3dcef8b83828
In his first utterance this morning he asked us to remember "Hitler" and what happened there. He then asked us to deal with this "Beast" and he went on to lambaste Canada's record for failure to keep up with its obligations under Kyoto.
Within a few more minutes MR. Monbiot listed temperatures and dates that "had" to be adhered to in order to prevent "catastrophy".
It may just be me but I do not have any respect for this type of rhetoric, especially from someone affiliated with the "Royal Society". I wonder how average people trying to do some research on their own are supposed to govern their lives and pragmatically make decisions. An important one is who to vote for in the next Federal Election.
Is the electorate expected to vote on the basis of imagery surrounding melting glaciers, flooding, hurricanes and polar bears scrambling for a piece of ice to stand on?
I think that our new Conservative Government is realizing that Kyoto goals cannot be met and that they will attempt to re-evaluate their position. Is this so wrong as to garner the "fossil of the day award' (twice) in Kenya?
In any case I would be interested in hearing comments on the news article in the link above.
I very much enjoy this discussion.
Thanks for listening.
Posted by: Mike Schneider at November 16, 2006 01:41 PM
To Mike Schneider,
I'm from Montreal, Québec. Here there is no debate about GW. In fact, other than the french sientist Marcel Leroux, I don't know any other french speaking scientist, or journalist that shows even a moderate views. To give you an idea Stephen Guilbault from Greenpeace is the only voice we hear in the media for any environmental subject.
Québec has been honoured today by the french minister for the environment Nelly Olin in Nairobi, while she bashed on Canada. Yet Québec contribution to GHG mitigation is that we have one of the slowest economic growth accross North America, the lost of a large part of our pork industrie (to the profit of Manitoba), and a special taxe of $250 millions to the petroleum corporation (which we end-up paying at the pump).
If I'm not mistaken, (maybe someone can explain better) GHG by countries are based on the growth of economic activities in each of these countries. It just happens that for Canada a large part of the economic growth has been from the high price of petroleum.
Here is a strange situation: people in Québec want to pay less for their gas (oil company are so evil), for that to happen more oil has to be extracted to elevate the offer yet they complain that Alberta pollute to much and that they should be more enviromentally friendly, well that is as long as they don't have to pay more for their gas.
A good anecdote would be that radio show host who is retelling all of the worst scenario and that we need to do something about it. His actions speaks for themselves this summer he bought a brand new mustang GT on which (in 3 month) he put around 30000Km (more than the 20,000Km/year the average people drive).
Posted by: Sylvain at November 16, 2006 04:40 PM