Saturday, December 14, 2013

Roger Pielke Jr sez we can still afford more weather disasters and WUWT protests at all and sundry

Sou | 12:56 AM Go to the first of 6 comments. Add a comment

Roger Pielke Jr argues that the cost of weather disasters hasn't (yet) outstripped the increase in gross domestic product - in the USA and in the world as a whole.  However he warns that absolute costs will continue to rise and that "The inability to detect and attribute increasing trends in the incidence of hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and drought does not mean that human-caused climate change is not real or of concern".

US House Subcommittee on Environment - Hearing on Weather and Climate

As they do from time to time, the U.S. House Subcommittee on  Environment had a hearing on weather and climate.  The House Committee called on three people: John Christy who has a reputation for spreading disinformation not based on science, Roger Pielke Jr who always seems to be the one who gets trotted out to give evidence about the cost of adapting to and recovering from extreme weather events (more the latter than the former from what I've read) and Rear-Admiral (ret'd) David Titley, who was nominated by the Democrats to give testimony.

The purpose of the hearing was "to examine the links between climate change and extreme weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, and floods".  Here are links to the written testimony of John Christy, Roger Pielke Jr and David Titley.

The House Subcommittee was putting on a political show.  They were (probably deliberately) asking the wrong question of the wrong people and even then had to leave out half the testimony to report the answer they wanted to get.

Some comments on part of Roger Pielke's testimony

I'll just make some observations about part of Roger Pielke Jr's written testimony. He wrote:
Globally, weather-related losses ($) have not increased since 1990 as a proportion of GDP (they have actually decreased by about 25%) and insured catastrophe losses have not increased as a proportion of GDP since 1960...
...The absolute costs of disasters will increase significantly in coming years due to greater wealth and populations in locations exposed to extremes. Consequent, disasters will continue to be an important focus of policy, irrespective of the exact future course of climate change. 
The inability to detect and attribute increasing trends in the incidence of hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and drought does not mean that human-caused climate change is not real or of concern. 
It does mean however that some activists, politicians, journalists, corporate and government agency representatives and even scientists who should know better have made claims that are unsupportable based on evidence and research. 
Such claims could undermine the credibility of arguments for action on climate change, and to the extent that such false claims confuse those who make decisions related to extreme events, they could lead to poor decision making. 
...The remainder of this written testimony provides data and references to support the claims made in the “take-home points” above.

I didn't find anything in his testimony to support his claim that  "scientists who should know better have made claims that are unsupportable based on evidence and research" - although I suppose he didn't have to.  I guess John Christy's testimony (see below) would have been sufficient. (Nor does he give a clue as to the nature of such claims.)

Roger quotes himself a lot, such as in his representation of tornadoes, saying "there is some evidence that they have declined" (in the USA).  He doesn't say what that evidence is but does refer to his own paper.  I looked at his paper and it seemed to be ambivalent on the issue, making statements that appear to be inconsistent (my bold italics):
On climate time scales there is no indication of increasing incidence of tornadoes, and the increases documented over the short (sub-climate) period 2000 – 2011 are strongly influenced by the large number of events documented in 2011. However, the decreased frequency of high damage events in recent decades as compared with previous decades is a notable feature in the time series and provides strong counter-evidence to claims found in the scientific literature that the atmospheric environment that spawns tornadoes has intensified leading to more intense events on climate time scales (e.g. Trenberth, 2012).
...The most recent review by the IPCC found no basis for claiming an increase (or decrease) in tornado incidence or intensity (IPCC, 2012).
...The degree to which this decrease is the result of an actual decrease in the incidence of strong tornadoes is difficult to assess due to inconsistencies in reporting practices over time. However, an examination of trends within sub-periods of the dataset is suggestive that some part of the long-term decrease in losses may have a component related to actual changes in tornado behaviour. Further research is clearly needed to assess this suggestion.

So have they increased, decreased or is the data insufficient to say?  Roger says they've decreased but then again he makes his "difficult to assess" claim and he also talks about them increasing.  I couldn't see that his paper that he refers to supports his claimed "decrease".

I checked Roger's reference to Trenberth12 above and Kevin Trenberth does not claim that there have been more tornadoes.  In fact his paper states:
Trends in the tornado record are not reliable, as increases in population over previously rural areas lead to more reporting of tornadoes, but the exceptional nature of the 2011 spring is not in doubt.
Global warming does not contribute directly to tornadoes themselves, but it does contribute to the vigor of the thunderstorms that host them through the increased warmth and moisture content (moist static energy) of the low level air flow. 

As an aside, in Roger's paper, his normalisation does not appear to account for preparedness or adaptation. That is, if the cost societies have incurred in regard to adapting to higher seas, increased precipitation and severe storms were added in, how would that affect his sums?  Major and minor initiatives like the Thames barrier, stricter building codes, better bridges, flood mitigation works etc aren't cheap at the local level nor at the global level.  I expect that they would have cost less than not adapting and trying to repair the damage afterwards instead.  (Take Katrina as an example of the cost of not adapting sufficiently and trying to make up after the event.)  In his written testimony Roger writes:
The peer-reviewed literature on this subject is extensive and robust. Neumayer and Barthel (2011), in a study conducted at the London School of Economics and supported financially by Munich Reinsurance conclude:
“[B]ased on historical data, there is no evidence so far that climate change has increased the normalized economic loss from natural disasters.”12

Here is the full quote from that paper (my bold italics):
Applying, therefore, both methods to the most comprehensive existing global dataset of natural disaster loss, in general we find no significant upward trends in normalized disaster damage over the period 1980 to 2009 globally, regionally, for specific disasters or for specific disasters in specific regions. Due to our inability to control for defensive mitigation measures, one cannot infer from our analysis that there have definitely not been more frequent and/or more intensive weather-related natural hazards over the study period already. Moreover, it may still be far too early to detect a trend if humaninduced climate change has only just started and will gain momentum over time. 

Some other parts of Rogers testimony could also appear to be contradictory on first reading.  For example, he wrote:
  • Similarly, on climate timescales it is incorrect to link the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases. 
  • Globally, weather-related losses ($) have not increased since 1990 as a proportion of GDP (they have actually decreased by about 25%) and insured catastrophe losses have not increased as a proportion of GDP since 1960. 

On closer examination, the two statements are not necessarily contradictory.  What Roger is saying is that although the cost of disasters has increased, GDP has risen more.  So far, the world has managed to keep one step ahead of the extra cost not just of adaptation (building codes, planning schemes, flood mitigation works, water storages, storm barriers etc) but also the cost of preparedness, response and recovery from weather disasters.  Bearing in mind that I don't think Roger has factored in the cost of adaptation.  In any case, Roger doesn't give any indication of how much longer we'll be able to stay on top of this as climate change kicks in this century.

John Christy admits he's all at sea when it comes to climate science

In his written testimony, John Christy indicates that he has difficulty he has with some climate-related topics.  Early in his written testimony he said he thought that in order to define a weather event as statistically unusual, he would need 1,500 to 2,000 years of data.  He's not very good at data analysis. 

John also admits he doesn't understand how climate models can be used to determine the extent to which global warming is caused by increased greenhouse gases and the extent to which it's caused by solar and volcanic forcing.  He's not too bright all around. He wrote that it doesn't make sense to him:
First, the IPCC relies on climate models to distinguish “natural” from “human” caused climate change because instruments can’t. However, as demonstrated, these same models on average fail by a significant amount to reproduce the climate of the past 35 years (the years most directly impacted by rising greenhouse gas emissions.) But in conclusion, the IPCC now has even more confidence that the models can distinguish “natural” from “human” change over a period the models clearly fail to simulate well. It doesn’t make sense to me. 

Apart from finding data analysis all too hard, the other reason it might not make sense to John is because he's got climate models all wrong.  If he'd taken the time to look at the model outputs, he'd have known they've been quite close to observations over most of the past 35 years.  He thought they "failed" over the past 35 years, silly boy.  

I don't know of any models that hindcast cooling since 1977 outside of denier "models".  Anyone?

Do you think John Christy was confusing scientific climate models with those of Denier Don Easterbrook?  Like this one from 2001?

Here is a shot of the CMIP5 models vs the full record of GISTemp actual anomalies:

Data Sources: NASA and Climate Explorer 

And here is the record going back over the last 35 years:

Data Sources: NASA and Climate Explorer

It's only the last few years where there is any divergence.  If the surface temperature had gone up more after 2005 no-one would be using the words "pause" or "hiatus".  John Christy is trying to fool people with this "35 years".


I see Anthony Watts has his knickers in a knot over the fact that the Democrats in the USA issued a press release after the hearing.  Anthony didn't (or couldn't) do his own write up. Posting the Democrats version of the event seems a bit odd for a science denier. He could have posted the press release from the Committee Chair who, going by his statement is a science denier.  Not that it matters so much any more, as Ryan Cooper points out in his blog at the Washington Post. (The WUWT article is archived here.)

Anthony complained that the Democrats press release didn't quote the testimony of Roger Pielke Jr and John Christy.  Well, the Committee itself didn't quote any of the testimony from any of them that showed how climate change is affecting the weather.  The committee was more concerned that the administration shouldn't scare people.  Although they denied or ignored the known links between global warming and extreme weather events, at least in the press release the GOP majority didn't deny climate change.

What's odd too is the reaction from the WUWT peanut gallery to the Democrat's press release.  A few of them seem to be accepting that temperatures are rising but they seem to think that's "natural".  Some are even calling it a "random walk".  Random?  If it were random it would be going down as much as up.  But it's not.  Others are saying that "it's cooling".

Here is a sample of comments (archived here).

dp decides the USA has gone to the dogs and says:
December 12, 2013 at 11:46 pm
The US is the world’s newest Banana Republic. Maybe Blazing Saddles would be a better metaphor.

Willis Eschenbach doesn't trust the free market and private sector and says:
December 12, 2013 at 11:47 pm
Talk about fools. Taking climate advice from the Reinsurance Industry is like asking your barber if you need a haircut …

gopal panicker is a bit lost for words and reaches for the word he hears most often:
December 12, 2013 at 11:49 pm

ivor ward doesn't know what anyone at the hearing wrote or said, but he knows what he knows and says:
December 12, 2013 at 11:53 pm
Even when they listen to the truth they are determined not to hear it.

ronald was in a great rush to see his words in print, but had a few problems with sticky keys:
December 12, 2013 at 11:58 pm
Isendt that what they alway do in the AGW curch? If you cant use it dump it. We now cane only hope that someone coms out and says what going wrong.

Doubting Rich thinks if the baseline is shifted up, it might get cool again - or CO2 will lose all its properties, or something:
December 13, 2013 at 1:44 am
Wow, no concept of a random walk! It is hard not to laugh at the idea that the climate refers back to a time period over which the science of meteorology was developing rapidly, just before computers developed sufficiently to make crude climate modelling possible, to decide what temperature to be.
Is there some weather god up there thinking “ah, yes, I’ll use the 1961-1980 mean as a reference; lets flip this coin to see whether this year’s base temperature will be higher or lower. Of course man-made CO2 will then influence the temperature from that point.”

Alan the Brit doesn't seem to know or care what he's responding to and mutters something irrelevant:
December 13, 2013 at 1:54 am
The madness starts when the lies are believed, & the lies are perpetuated to the point of religious fervour, when the “Emperor’s new clothes” become the norm. Truly we live in an insane mad world! Maybe Man is destined to “die-off” sooner rather than later?

johnmarshall lives underground in a cave and thinks the world above him is turning into an ice block:
December 13, 2013 at 2:13 am
Warming world??? How about a cooling world!!!!!!!
Extreme weather is part of the chaotic weather mix, GET USED TO IT.

Rob is another one who doesn't know how to express his thoughts, or maybe he doesn't have any:
December 13, 2013 at 2:30 am
I don`t even have words for this.

Simmons, Kevin M., Daniel Sutter, and Roger Pielke. "Normalized tornado damage in the United States: 1950–2011." Environmental Hazards 12, no. 2 (2013): 132-147.

Trenberth, Kevin E. "Framing the way to relate climate extremes to climate change." Climatic Change 115, no. 2 (2012): 283-290.

Neumayer, Eric, and Fabian Barthel. "Normalizing economic loss from natural disasters: a global analysis." Global Environmental Change 21, no. 1 (2011): 13-24.


  1. "Talk about fools. Taking climate advice from the Reinsurance Industry is like asking your barber if you need a haircut …

    or asking your dentist if you need a filling ... Oh wait

  2. In talking about RP Jr, I think you're struggling. If you don't like what he's saying about trends, you should stop trying to read the entrails by the text of papers and look at the numbers.

    1. What do you mean, William? What part am I "struggling" with?

      Roger seems to be struggling with his tornado trends. One minute he's got them rising the next they are declining. As for the cost of damage from weather events, I don't believe the normalised numbers tell the whole story.

      If Roger's going to take a shot at scientists he should cite examples. Taking a shot at the media is easy - there is always someone in the press saying the wrong thing. It seems unnecessary to point that out. He'd be better off having a shot at the Committee for downplaying the situation. Or taking a shot at some of the silliness in John Christy's testimony.

      Roger does indicate that as climate change kicks in the cost will rise. The Committee press release ignores that.

    2. Reading Pielke's papers is exactly how to find out what Pielke is trying to say. If Sou is struggling, it's because neither Pielke can be accused of consistency (see above). We should thank her for slogging through Pielke-land; I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy.

    3. Pielke Jr states in his testimony on 11th December
      "The inability to detect and attribute increasing trends in the incidence of hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and drought does not mean that human-caused climate change is not real or of concern."
      It does mean however that some activists, politicians, journalists, corporate and government agency representatives and even scientists who should know better have made claims that are unsupportable based on evidence and research. "
      but consistently refuses to accept his own advice.

      This December 2 statement about tornadoes was a response to a NY Times oped from Richard Muller and was written by 6 tornado experts including Harold Brooks.
      "...University of California, Berkeley, professor Richard Muller argued in a recent New York Times opinion piece that "the scientific evidence shows that strong to violent tornadoes have actually been decreasing for the past 58 years, and it is possible that the explanation lies with global warming."
      The honest "truth" is that no one knows what effect global warming is having on tornado intensity. Tornado records are not accurate enough to tell whether tornado intensity has changed over time."

      Roger Pielke Jr states in his testimony (and this is a repeat of a claim that he has made previously before congress).
      "Tornadoes in the US have not increased in frequency, intensity or normalized damage since 1950, and there is some evidence to suggest that they have actually declined."

      Here is Keith Kloor unloading on Dana Nuccitelli who correctly pointed out that Roger Pielke Jr is a serial misinformer on this subject.

      So Harold Brooks was specifically asked about Pielke Jr's testimony

      Here is the twitter exchange
      @ThingsBreak 5 Dec
      Q for @hebrooks87: Would you testify "Tornadoes have not increased in frequency [or] intensity...since 1950" before Congress?
      ‏@hebrooks87 5 Dec
      @thingsbreak No. I'd testify no evidence for incr./decr. tornado freq./intensity since '54. Likely incr variability in occurrence recently.
      ‏@thingsbreak 6 Dec
      @hebrooks87 thx. One more Q? Would you claim "the most powerful tornadoes [F3-F5] have actually decreased over the past 50 years"?
      ‏@hebrooks87 6 Dec
      @thingsbreak Not all all. The quality of the reports aren't sufficient to tell.

      In spite of the tornado experts disagreeing with him, Roger Pielke Jr continues to misinform the US Congress.

      Pielke Jr's schtick is to conflate the data for normalised losses with the physical evidence for extreme weather events. And the schtick extends to Australia. Here is an attack on the Australian Climate Commission's 2012/13 Angry Summer report and a response from Professor Will Steffen.

  3. Sou struggles with many things including her limited understanding of computer models by this embarrassingly ignorant post.


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