Ray Nagin, the Mayor of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck the city, was just convicted of corruption. Twenty counts. All related to Katrina reconstruction contracts. I must admit, I wasn’t surprised.
Katrina is a classic example of people not preparing for a likely event simply because it is infrequent. Politics is all about immediate problems. Politicians do not do well preparing for events that only come along every 100 years or so. A relatively large hurricane struck a city adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico. A city with sections below sea level. It has happened before and it will happen again. Someday.
Katrina and Al Gore are inexorably linked in my mind, because of Mr. Gore’s film. An Inconvenient Truth linked human tragedy with climate change. Lots and lots of newsreel footage of Katrina suffering, with Mr. Gore narrating. George Bush and global warming shared the blame, according to Mr. Gore.
Mr. Gore’s approach begins with little bit of science. He then provides lots of anecdotal information. He then uses that information to support his gloom and doom climate change thesis. The science may or may not have anything to do with the subject at hand, but it seems like the two are linked together. The process works well.
The Katrina section of the film opened with a graph. The graph displayed the changes in worldwide ocean temperatures. The graph showed a rise in recent years. That graph was the only specific data provided.
Tropical systems need warm water to form. Mr Gore asserted that because the oceans are warmer, there would be more storm systems. Videos of suffering in New Orleans; pictures of suffering in Asia. Many tropical systems were featured. The storms themselves were all the proof Mr. Gore needed.
Multiple problems immediately come to mind.
- Global average ocean temperature is a bad proxy. Most warming since the end of the Little Ice some 250 years ago has occurred in temperate and Arctic locations. The Tropics have been remarkably stable.
- The IPCC 2007 Synopses Report, released a year after An Inconvenient Truth, called tropical cyclone data inconclusive. Mr. Gore’s favorite UN agency contradicted him in their most recent report.
- Mr. Gore’s ocean temperature chart went back to the 1940’s. Ocean data before the 1980’s must have been a wild guess because before that date very little data existed.
But Mr. Gore’s central problem is this; statistical data does not support his premise. Tropical systems have not been becoming more frequent. In the years since his film was released, worldwide activity has decreased by a small amount. Globally, tropical systems have been surprisingly stable for at least 40 years.
How do I know this?
Scientists use ACE (The Global Tropical Cyclone Accumulated Cyclone Energy) to track worldwide total tropical cyclone activity. This data takes into consideration both the strength and the number of cyclones all over the world. It’s a mathematical way of calculating the yearly impact tropical systems have on our environment. 24 month running sums are plotted.
Here it is:
Forty years of data, no trend. Unfortunately the real world and the world of global climate politics are completely different places. In 2005, when Katrina was devastating New Orleans, man caused global climate change was supposedly causing bigger and nastier storms including Katrina.
Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines late last year. Global climate change was an oft stated source of the devastation. Haiyan was a big storm, but not unprecedented and not unexpected. 6 to 9 typhoons strike the Philippines in a typical season.
A typhoon struck the Philippines in September of 1881. It is estimated that 20,000 people in the Philippines died and thousands more died in Viet Nam. It was the most devastating tropical storm in recorded history. More tropical cyclones strike the Philippines than any other populated place on earth.
Mr. Obama, in his State of the Union address, blamed drought in California on man caused climate activity. A recent study disagrees:
Through studies of tree rings, sediment and other natural evidence, researchers have documented multiple droughts in California that lasted 10 or 20 years in a row during the past 1,000 years — compared to the mere three-year duration of the current dry spell. The two most severe megadroughts make the Dust Bowl of the 1930s look tame: a 240-year-long drought that started in 850 and, 50 years after the conclusion of that one, another that stretched at least 180 years
Katrina was a category 3 storm when it hit New Orleans, Haiyan was a big storm, but others have been bigger and the drought in the West has happened before. The Mayan culture disappeared some 600 years ago, presumably due to over population and a change in the climate.
Maybe, just maybe, Nature is simply being Nature. Some climate change might simply be a Natural Event.