The staggering thought we cause storms

a great storm

This is from The Nelson Daily (British Columbia) on 31 Aug 2011. The story tries to induce anxiety about the increased storminess we humans are causing.

The idea is as loony as thinking that sacrificing a virgin to the gods might increase the harvest.

The title is Hurricane Irene and the staggering costs of climate change, and the first thing I notice is that the author, Richard Matthews, has a professional grip on the landscape of global warming and its off-shoots.

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment.

He has, in short, very good business reasons to magnify man’s impact on the environment, including our contribution to global warming. Matthews’ opening statement leads the way in brushing aside the need for evidence or logic.

Extreme weather events like Hurricane Irene illustrate the costs of man’s impact on the earth.

This statement is evidence only of a strong belief.

The planet has been getting warmer since the dawn of the industrial age and for every one degree rise in temperature, moisture rises by seven per cent.

But the observed record of water vapour at various altitudes since 1948 show variability, no sign of increase, and a modest decline.

Scientists predict that warmer temperatures will increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Or to put it another way, global warming amplifies the risk factors for extreme weather events.

Scientists say with equal authority that warmer temperatures will not do that. First, there is no evidence of increased frequency. Second, scientists explain that the severity of storms is moderated by the pole-to-equator thermal gradient; the larger the gradient, the more severe the storm. But as global temperatures rise, the pole-to-equator thermal gradient is predicted to reduce.

So it’s the opposite of what our Richard says: we should expect less severe storms as temperatures rise.

In a paper earlier this year, tropical cyclone numbers and energy were reported to be dramatically reduced from historical levels.

Guided by its research, the insurance industry expects that extreme weather events will become routine.

The insurance industry — did you know? — makes its living by selling insurance. The more it sells, the more money it makes. It can be expected to highlight and even exaggerate future risks in order to persuade us to buy more insurance. The insurance industry is a prejudiced and unreliable witness in this discussion.

In contradiction of the insurance industry’s rosy expectation, a recent paper from the CSIRO predicts fewer cyclones and smaller waves with future warming.

But not everyone is guided by rational enquiry; there are many other Americans who are still confused about the scientific veracity of climate change.

Although scientists are reluctant to make definitive statements, in 2011, most will agree that there is a strong and growing body of evidence supporting the existence of anthropogenic global warming.

It’s hard to know what Matthews is getting at here. But climate changes all the time. Nobody is confused about that. However, we want to know the evidence that he says makes up a “strong and growing” body. What is it?

In Scientific American, John Carey explains it this way, ”Until recently scientists had only been able to say that more extreme weather is ‘consistent’ with climate change caused by greenhouse gases that humans are emitting into the atmosphere.

“Now, however, they can begin to say that the odds of having extreme weather have increased because of human-caused atmospheric changes—and that many individual events would not have happened in the same way without global warming.”

I can “begin to say” that Matthews has no cause to assert that human behaviour caused, increased the likelihood of or increased the intensity of Hurricane Irene.

Hurricane Irene illustrates that extreme weather can be very costly.

We already knew that, blockhead.

What makes Irene noteworthy is not its severity, but its location. Landlocked Vermont is not a place normally associated with a tropical storm, yet floodwaters surged through that state and many others in the East.

This is natural variation; it’s not the first time tropical cyclones have made it that far north and it won’t be the last. It’s nothing to do with us.

For Vermont, these were the worst floods in 83 years. In addition to washing out roads and destroying buildings, Irene forced the temporary closure of several power plants. Airlines said they were forced to cancel 12,000 flights, a record for the industry and Manhattan took the unprecedented step of halting all public transportation.

Floods are a potential environmental health hazard even after the waters recedes. Floodwaters carry toxic waste, animal remains, and sewage, creating an aggressive breeding ground for mold and bacteria.

The exact cost of Irene is not yet known, but so far the financial toll of Irene is up to $7 billion nationally, with insured losses of between $3 and $4 billion. The costs begin to accrue in a significant way when extreme weather events become climate disasters.

Yes, dreadful. Yes, hurtful and damaging. But nothing that we did caused any of it, except for building our communities in a dangerous place. Any spot on the Earth is a dangerous place.

This year (2011) is already the most expensive year ever for extreme weather in the U.S. and the hurricane season is not yet half over. Hurricane Irene will help push the 2011 climate disaster costs past the previous record of 35 billion set in 2008.

This year, there have been ten separate disasters that caused an economic loss of $1 billion or more in the U.S, beating the record set in 2008. “The “new reality” is that both the frequency and the cost of extreme weather are rising, making the nation more economically vulnerable and putting more lives and livelihoods at risk,” the NOAA’s Hayes said.

Inflation alone ensures that this decade’s storm damage will cost more than last decade’s, and population increases also push the costs up. There’s no reason to frighten us into thinking that we’re somehow responsible for the storms too. The only “new reality” is the opportunity the global warming scare presents to extract money from everyone.

There is widespread agreement that the cost of the financial crisis of 2007/8 was monumental, but far too few are concerned about the costs associated with anthropogenic environmental damage.

It’s non-scientific to allege that these costs of storm damage are caused by our activities. However, Matthews uses this disconnected statement to segue to his real interest, which is charging businesses for guiding them into “sustainable” paths and “eco-friendly” practices. The PRI and UNEP report quoted next has nothing to do with storm damage. It contains impenetrable eco-babble about “externalities” affecting shareholder returns and is propaganda of the worst kind, inducing guilt without quite understanding why.

It claims the “true” cost to business of the environmental impact of greenhouse gases is 80% of all environment-related costs. Which is nonsense. They got that from the Stern report, which prices “carbon” at $US85 per tonne of CO2. That was a stretch when they wrote it and is now impossible. The PRI report came out in October 2010, just before the Chicago Carbon Exchange closed down in early November because the carbon price had collapsed yet again. Nobody wants to buy the stuff. What a shame.

According to a study released by the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and UNEP Finance Initiative, global environmental damage caused by human activity in 2008 represented a monetary value of $ 6.6 trillion, equivalent to 11% of global GDP. Those global costs are 20% larger than the $ 5.4 trillion decline in the value of pension funds in developed countries caused by the global financial crisis in 2007/8.

As noted in the UNEP Finance Initiative report titled “Putting a Price on Global Environmental Damage,” “environmental harm could affect significantly the value of capital markets and global economic growth.”

The report also estimates that global environmental damage will cost $28 trillion by 2050. The report further indicates that number could be reduced by 23 percent if clean and resource-efficient technologies are introduced.

Those numbers are astronomical because they rely on an extraordinary pricing assigned to the emission of greenhouse gases. They are unbelievable. Though we must look after our environment, it is unreasonable that the cost of doing so should be terrifying.

The financial implications of extreme weather are too great to be ignored, particularly when we factor in loss of productivity and ancillary costs like increased insurance premiums.

Fair enough, nothing to argue with here. The point would be to ensure the information that underpins our planning is reliable and undistorted by intrinsic bias.

Storms, floods, tornadoes and heat waves are the corollaries of global warming and as recent events illustrate, some of these extreme weather events incur staggering costs. We need fiscal responsibility, but surely that includes investments which reduce the crippling costs of climate disasters.

The most that these events have to do with global warming is that they will become milder in response to it. Since we’re not causing warming, no change in investment strategy can possibly reduce the costs of climatic damage.

You’re presenting a dream, Mr Matthews.

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13 Thoughts on “The staggering thought we cause storms

  1. Richard C (NZ) on 02/09/2011 at 10:26 am said:

    There’s some woolly logic and dodgy monetary values in those quotes.

    Apparently there was similar flooding in Vermont 83 years ago but the difference then being that they did not have power stations to close down or 12,000 flights to cancel. So there was extreme weather then and now but in the intervening time there has been extreme anthropogenic development that takes a battering when extreme weather comes around again.

    The PRI and UNEP Finance Initiative estimate global environmental damage caused by human activity in 2008 represented a monetary value of $ 6.6 trillion. So over the last 4 years that’s $ 26.4 trillion (soon we’ll be talking real money). What was the human activity and what was the environmental damage? Does the environmental damage include human infrastructure? Who incurs the $ 6.6 trillion per annum cost or is it an economic opportunity cost of say loss of arable land through sediment being washed out to sea? The number though, seems too large for that.

    If the $ 6.6 trillion.environmental damage caused by human activity is damage to human built infrastructure then so what? That’s what insurance is for and the more human infrastructure is built the more will be at risk. Yes a monetary value can be assigned to that although again, the number seems too large for that.

    If the $ 6.6 trillion environmental damage caused by human activity is geologic then no monetary value can be assigned to it. The planet has been damaging itself for millenniums at no cost to anyone and no monetary value ever assigned to the massive upheavals e.g. the ice sheet that covered North America and probably Vermont, what monetary value did that “represent”?

    If the loss is from arable land being washed out to sea then it’s only what has been happening naturally for millenniums anyway. Geologists have noticed that land is formed that way but planting trees on erosion prone slopes (or not denuding the landscape completely in the first place) would help prevent unnecessary erosion and sedimentation of harbours and rivers.

    I think the $ 6.6 trillion is not an actual monetary value because they use the word “represents” i.e. it’s a fictitious numeric designed to shock but it’s not real currency or cost. In 2008 global insurance premiums were $4.3 trillion but that would be to insure human infrastructure and assets – not the environment and not claims either.

    A case of making up bogus numbers I think.

  2. Richard C (NZ) on 02/09/2011 at 12:51 pm said:

    This is nuts. I looked up PRI “Putting a Price on Global Environmental Damage”

    Then followed the link “READ THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY” to PRI “Universal Ownership
    Why environmental externalities matter to institutional investors”

    Table 1 is a breakdown of the $ 6.6. trillion

    TABLE 1:
    Annual environmental costs for the global economy in 2008 and projections for 2050
    (US$ billions)

    Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 4,530 20,809
    Water abstraction 1,226 4,702
    Pollution (SOx, NOx, PM, VOCs, mercury) 546 0 1,926
    General waste 197 635
    Natural resources
    Fish 54 287
    Timber 42 256
    Other ecosystem services,
    pollutants and waste Not available (NA) NA NA NA
    Total 6,596 28,615

    GHG emissions (US$ 4,530 bn) are 69% of the 2008 total (US$ 6,596 bn).and the Table 1 notes say this:- “External costs were applied to data on current and projected greenhouse gas emissions”.

    As Richard T points out in the post, this is how the “External costs were applied” (from the report):-

    GHG emissions and resulting climate change impacts account for a large and growing share of environmental costs – rising from 69% to 73% of externalities between 2008 and 2050. Trucost applied a carbon price of US$ 85 to each tonne of GHGs emitted in 2008 to calculate global annual external costs as US$ 4.5 trillion. This represents the present day value of future climate change impacts and is based on the social cost of carbon from the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (2006).4 The future rise in costs for escalating GHG emissions to reflect mounting climate change impacts results in projected external costs of US$ 21 trillion in 2050. Emissions are the main driver of the trajectory of rising externalities year-on-year. Water abstraction and air pollution were the other main contributors to environmental costs, followed by emissions of volatile organic compounds, waste generation, fish and timber use and mercury emissions

    US$ 85 to each tonne of GHGs emitted in 2008 yes, but the US$ 4.5 trillion is the PRESENT DAY value of FUTURE estimated climate change impacts of the 2008 emissions (for which there is no certainty).

    The $85 in 2008 (if paid) is an advance payment or penalty (to whom? will it actually be applied to damage in the future?) for an uncertain future impact (a bogus application of the precautionary principle).

    What if, as many peer-reviewed papers (and the climate) are telling us, those GHG emissions (“the main driver of the trajectory of rising externalities”) have little or no effect?

    The Table 1 Totals reduce from 6.596 to 2.066 present day and from 28.615 to 7.806 in 2050.

    I think we’ll cope.

  3. Richard C (NZ) on 02/09/2011 at 2:24 pm said:

    The STERN REVIEW: The Economics of Climate Change 2006 is very alarming. Here’s the scientific justification for it in the Executive Summary:-

    But the annual flow of emissions is accelerating, as fast-growing economies invest in highcarbon infrastructure and as demand for energy and transport increases around the world. The level of 550ppm CO2e could be reached as early as 2035. At this level there is at least a 77% chance – and perhaps up to a 99% chance, depending on the climate model used – of a global average temperature rise exceeding 2°C.

    The full report is 700 pages and many unfavorable critical responses are laid out here:-

    e.g.Scientific consensus is incorrect or does not exist

    A paper by Carter et al. (2006) sets out a scientific critique of the Review.[35] Martin Livermore, of the Scientific Alliance, has said that “climate is not driven primarily by human use of fossil fuels” and that the money to be spent is unlikely to have much effect: it would be better spent on the world’s poor.[36]

    Carter, R.M. et al (October–December 2006). “The Stern Review: A Dual Critique”

    Part I: The Science
    Robert M. Carter, C. R. de Freitas, Indur M. Goklany, David Holland
    & Richard S. Lindzen

    Part II: Economic Aspects
    Ian Byatt, Ian Castles, Indur M. Goklany, David Henderson, Nigel Lawson,
    Ross McKitrick, Julian Morris, Alan Peacock, Colin Robinson & Robert Skidelsky,%20Part%201.pdf

    We consider that the Review is doubly deficient. The scientific evidence for dangerous change is, in fact, far from overwhelming, and the Review presents a picture of the scientific debate that is neither accurate nor objective.

    Overall, our conclusion is that the Review is flawed to a degree that makes it unsuitable, if not unwise, for use in setting policy.

    Of particular relevance to the above post is the Extreme Weather section page 23 (pdf) or 187 (WORLD ECONOMICS)

    Here’s a snippet:-

    “…it is very broadly agreed that specific weather events cannot be ascribed to global climate changes, let alone to their hypothesised human-induced component. His response, however, gave the opposite impression by selective citation and claiming, without evidence, that “The world has been experiencing more extreme weather events.” The latter statement is vague (no base period was stated for the comparison), and contradicts the statements in the last IPCC report that there was:

    …no compelling evidence that the characteristics of tropical and extra-tropical storms have changed… [and that]…Recent analyses of changes in severe local weather (e.g., tornadoes, thunderstorm days, and hail) in a few selected regions do not provide compelling evidence to suggest long-term changes. In general, trends in severe weather events are notoriously difficult to detect because of their relatively rare occurrence and large spatial variability.

    That was from 2006, 5 years later they’re trying to pin human causation on Irene.

    Carter et al on hurricanes:-

    We note in passing that, contrary to virtually all projections, the 2006 hurricane season in the North Atlantic was relatively mild, underscoring the poor knowledge the climatological community has about the processes that drive storms and extreme weather events, and the folly of giving too much credence to longer-term forecasts based on current knowledge even when forecasting tools have been “trained” intensely using past information

  4. Mike Jowsey on 02/09/2011 at 5:18 pm said:

    RT – Another pleasing evisceration of a patently myopic, entrenched arm-waving eco-capitalist.

    My comments:
    1. What warming? Given NIWA’s crappy pseudo-science in reporting NZ temps, and numerous other examples like that revealed by Watts’, are we really sure that they got all the myriad homogenisations, pasteurisations and gravytrain alignments correct?

    2. Talk about a denier. His assertion regards “a strong and growing body of evidence” actually applies to the skeptical side. The “strong and growing body of evidence” meme peaked about 2.5 years ago, just after AR4 and before Climategate. There is now a “shonky and shrinking corpse of evidence” on his side of the debate.

    Keep up the good work RT (and the vitamin C)

    • Another pleasing evisceration of a patently myopic, entrenched arm-waving eco-capitalist.

      Well expressed!

      Thanks. Vitamin C has gone in. Now a bacon, roast garlic and tomato risotto is in preparation.

      PS: Beer contains vitamin C, does it?

    • Anthropogenic Global Cooling on 02/09/2011 at 7:18 pm said:

      I’m sure a Guiness would contain all the main vitamin groups.

  5. Alexander K on 03/09/2011 at 1:58 am said:

    The Matthews bloke is a well-known Chicken Little in the UK, whose beliefs (not science!) are genuine, if totally misguided. He wants everybody to cycle or walk everywhere, to eat Ragwort Lasagne and to be thoroughly uncomfortable all of the time. A couple of hundred years ago he would have been crouched in a bare and freezing monk’s cell, attempting to make his fellow man aware of the mortal danger sinning was putting everybody in through prayer. He is the type of imaginatively pessimistic cultist that got so thoroughly up Martin Luther’s nose (as opposed to the pay-per-sin cartels the Church ran that also got up ML’s hooter) and is an intellectual throwback to the medieval era in which scientific cause and effect had not yet arrived.
    And I was joking about the Ragwort – don’t try eating the stuff!
    I have just enjoyed a week in an industrial city in the far reaches of the Czech Republic and can vouch for the wonderful and restorative qualities of Czech beer!

  6. I appreciate all of your comments and I assure you that I am neither Chicken Little nor am I a medieval monk. I recieved my scientific training at McGill University and I am currently the owner of a consulting firm. I have taken it upon myself to share the facts about climate change.

    Whether you like it or not, there is a scientific consensus on climate change: According to a survey from the National Academy of Sciences, 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing, believe that climate change “very likely” caused mainly by human activity. The report is based on questions posed to 1,372 scientists. Nearly all the experts agreed that it is “very likely that anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been responsible for most of the unequivocal warming of the Earth’s average global temperature in the second half of the twentieth century. Estimates from published literature and expert surveys suggest striking agreement among climate scientists on the tenets of anthropogenic climate change.”

    If you want to educate yourself about the actual science of climate change, take a look at this fairly comprehensive review:

    • Not another Richard, Richard M!

      I hope your points will be taken up by our vigilant and well-informed readers and lead to a vigorous conversation. I will just say that, clearly, there is a consensus, since the CAGW views wouldn’t have conquered the establishment position without some kind of broad agreement.

      There are, however, very good reasons for doubting the dominance of the consensus, chief among them being the almost universal reluctance of the “warmists” to debate with sceptics or even approve of sceptical views in their newspapers and magazines. What are they afraid of?

      The second important element in relation to the arguments you raise is that, when a valid question is asked about science, it does not inevitably mark the questioner as belonging to a particular school of thought. That’s what we attempt to abandon here at the CCG.

      The above post mentions that the observed record of atmospheric water vapour since 1948 shows a modest decline, which is contrary to your assertion that warming will cause a rise of some unstated amount. If the record is accepted, your prediction fails, and with it, any alarm over increased storminess.

      This does not represent a battle between schools of thought, but between scientific observations. This is good.

      Welcome aboard.

    • Richard C (NZ) on 23/09/2011 at 6:21 pm said:

      Richard M, you say:-

      “If you want to educate yourself about the actual science of climate change”

      We are, e.g. see,

      More learned about water — science still not settled

      Just One Fact

      IPCC Science

      Lots of “facts about climate change”.

      BTW, loved your joke about the survey result that “97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing” “believe that climate change “very likely” caused mainly by human activity” – hilarious.

    • Andy on 23/09/2011 at 6:46 pm said:

      There is a consensus of 100% of physicists that particles cannot travel faster than the speed of light.

      Oh, wait….

    • Richard C (NZ) on 23/09/2011 at 7:03 pm said:

      Weird….. (the particles that is)

    • Anthropogenic Global Cooling on 23/09/2011 at 7:21 pm said:

      The ’97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing, believe that climate change “very likely” caused mainly by human activity’ comes from the Doran survey (2009). The reality of this survey is it only surveyed 79 scientists, which is hardly representative of the wider scientific community:'scientigic-consensus-on-climate-change‘.pdf

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