“… your argument appears to rely on the same tactic you disparage in others: ‘the selective emphasis of certain facts that bolster their stance’…. You omit the abundant and vital array of studies…. You’re also way out of date.” – Andy Revkin to Dessler (below)
Last summer/fall was supposed to be another hurricane season of note, according to climate scientist/alarmist/activist Andrew Dessler. On June 12, 2023, he wrote in “Climate change is making hurricanes more destructive” (Substack):
Because hurricanes are one of the big-ticket weather disasters that humanity has to face, climate misinformers spend a lot of effort muddying the waters on whether climate change is making hurricanes more damaging. With the official start to the 2023 hurricane season in the North Atlantic on June 1, I figured it was time to explain why we can be so confident that hurricanes are indeed more destructive today due to climate change….
His explanations were a tee-up to an anticipated big hurricane season with the cycle in the upward direction. But nope. It was a pretty average year with the U.S. spared (probably a disappointment to Dessler and the other climate alarmists).
The Texas A&M professor gives his reasons for alarm and then attempts to discredit his critics:
Climate misinformers will respond that sea level only contributes a few percent to the total flood depth. But the non-linearity of flood damages means that even a small contribution from sea level rise to total flood depth can increase damages a lot.
But Andy, if the number of hurricanes declines because of anthropogenic forces, and if natural forces are increasing sea level too …. And speaking of incremental change (a valid concept), what about the decline in incremental forcing from each unit of CO2 emissions given the saturation effect? AND if adaptation helped by an absence of climate policy reduces the incremental effect …. Your take is cherry picking, focusing on one part of the picture (the alarmist part) without bringing in the whole. Ditto to the positives of CO2 enrichment on the global ecosphere that go unmentioned.
Dessler then gets to the predictions:
It is likely that the global proportion of Category 3–5 tropical cyclone instances … have increased globally over the past 40 years. and this will continue in the future: the proportion of Category 4–5 TCs will very likely increase globally with warming.
He does state some caveats, but in the name of humility and unsettled science, this should have fronted his post. Dessler does not know what he doesn’t know (or what cannot be known) to fall back on his simplistic view of climate causality. Here is his backhanded admission with some good news tucked in (darn, he must think to himself):
What we’re not sure about: number of tropical cyclones. We don’t have a good handle on what determines how many TCs form annually. Every year there are around 100 of these storms globally, and we don’t know why it’s that number and not, say, 10 or 1000. Without a basic theory, we have little confidence in how the number of TCs will change as the climate warms, although most models predict that the number of TCs will decline.
Dessler loves to offend (part of the PR campaign where no quarter can be given to critics, à la Michael Mann):
What we’re not sure about: monetary damage from tropical cyclones. Every climate misinformer loves loves loves to talk about how, there’s no trend in the observed (normalized) damage. I could explain why this is wrong, but Prof. Kerry Emanuel already did it and you should just read what he wrote.
Another reliable yardstick is to ask the people who have money on the line: insurance companies. If you do that, the verdict is clear: insurance premiums are skyrocketing and companies are fleeing places that are vulnerable to TCs (Florida, Louisiana) — exactly what you would expect in a world where the risk of TC damage was going up.
And he has to give it to his critics one more time: “The ‘no increase in damages’ is not a very good argument for the many reasons that Emanuel explained [and] deserves to be dropped into the dustbin of history, but it’s so useful to climate misinformers that I’m sure it will never disappear.”
This post has only touched on the ways that TCs are getting more damaging…. When arguing against this, climate misinformers don’t necessarily propagate outright lies. Rather, their method of misinformation lies in the selective emphasis of certain facts that bolster their stance. For example, they will focus on statistics like the number of storms, emphasizing that we don’t see any increase while conveniently omitting that climate scientists don’t predict an increase….
This is classic cherry picking. Instead of the selective offering of climate misinformers, you should look at all of the data. If you do that, it’s clear that hurricanes and other TCs are getting more destructive.
“All the data”? The big picture? Let’s do that! Bjorn Lomborg, Roger Pielke Jr., Ryan Maue …. Maue has recently crunched the data to find non-alarming trends in hurricane number and intensity, which Dessler ignores in his “it should be this” in my simplified world. But in this case, commenters put Dessler on defense with cause:
Andy, If you’d unblock me on Twitter we could discuss this topic out in the open. Meantime:
1. Your piece repeats a major error made in the IPCC (confusing fixes with storms):
2. Here is a more comprehensive look at the scientific consensus on tropical cyclones
A serious rebuttal, but Dessler has to resort to sarcasm and disrespect:
Andrew Dessler: Hey Roger, ol’ chum! Great to hear from you! Bringing the heat, as always, my friend! I can’t believe I still block you, let me undo that immediately! Then we can hang out on twitter and reminisce about the great times we had, like the time you accused me without evidence of plagiarizing an oped! Man, that was hilarious! Now where’s that unblock button …
Andy @Revkin This is not an either/or issue, as you note (either climate change or societal change driving tropical cyclone “impacts”). But your argument appears to rely on the same tactic you disparage in others: “the selective emphasis of certain facts that bolster their stance.”
For instance, I don’t know how anyone can omit the vital NOAA guidance on hurricanes and climate change: https://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/global-warming-and-hurricanes/
You omit the abundant and vital array of studies of “paleotempestology” records showing that strong hurricanes can be frequent in periods when sea temperate were cooler: See Jeff Donnelly’s work over the last two decades, a 2007 study I wrote up in The New York Times: “Over the last 5,000 years, the eastern Caribbean has experienced several periods, lasting centuries, in which strong hurricanes occurred frequently even though ocean temperatures were cooler than those measured today, according to a new study.” https://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/24/science/earth/24storm.html
You’re also way out of date. Relying on Kerry Emanuel’s near-decade-old rebuttal to Roger’s 538 post misses Roger’s subsequent output (see links in his reply to this post) and misses Kerry’s important recent work with PhD advisee Rapahel Rousseau-Rizzi nailing down that shifts in *aerosol* pollution have been the dominant shaper of recent North Atlantic hurricane patterns (not CO2-driven warming): Natural and anthropogenic contributions to the hurricane drought of the 1970s–1980s: https://texmex.mit.edu/pub/emanuel/PAPERS/Rousseau-Rizzi_Emanuel_2022_published.pdf
Ken Rice: As far as I can see, none of that actually contradicts what Andy has written in this post. All else being equal, warmer sea surface temperatures will tend to increase the intensity of a TC. However, there are other factors that could change the frequency of TCs, so that warming may lead to fewer TCs overall.
Andy @Revkin: His post is about hurricane *destructiveness* and loss, with intensity just one of the factors that can increase loss. Most of the others are societal sources of vulnerability, as countless disaster researchers have found. Think back to Hurricane Dorian’s damage in the Bahamas. Most of the islands recovered rapidly. The Haitian migrant workers who lived in the informal settlement called The Mudd were devastated. Same hurricane, different impacts. This Guardian report by David Smith really nailed the reality: ‘The poor are punished’: Dorian lays bare inequality in the Bahamas
Andy @Revkin. … What is important, to my eye, in the wider climate activism world is to reconsider the longstanding practice (goes back to An Inconvenient Truth) of making the climate > hurricanes story all about emissions reduction (discounting what you and I just stressed, which is the need to reduce risk by all means necessary).
I strongly sense – based on decades of reporting – that emissions-focused arguments for action are dangerously obscuring the need for aggressive changes on the ground to cut risk where vulnerability is greatest. Sift for the #expandingbullseye hashtag. Same issues in hurricane, fire, flood zones both rich and poor. Here’s a snippet from Florida: Here from Colorado wildfire country. And emissions cuts are needed forever, as I’ve been writing since 1988.
The 2023 Atlantic hurricane season: 20 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes versus the “average” of 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes. Last year tied 1933 as the fourth most active…. So where is the greenhouse signal in all this?
The moral of the story? Don’t whine for global government and the rule of ‘experts’. Don’t exaggerate. Prepare for change (Revkin, above). And adaptation to change requires … abundant, affordable, resilient, flexible energies–the fossil fuels primarily.
But Andrew Dessler wants none of this. His latest post is against LNG (backing Biden’s recent “pause’) that will not only encourage more coal usage abroad in the short-term, it will encourage the building of more coal capacity long-term. Enough said….