Hurricanes and carbon cuts

I was wanting to quickly comment on a recent Bjorn Lomborg article in the New York Post called No, global warming isn’t causing worse hurricanes. It’s mainly a response to another article in the New York Post called Climate change is making hurricanes way more intense.

There are a number of issues with Bjorn Lomborg’s article. It is true that we might expect anthropogenically-driven global warming to lead to fewer hurricanes overall, but we still expect an increase in the frequency and intensity of the strongest ones. There is already an indication of an increase in the frequency and intensity of the strongest storms in the North Atlantic, which appears to be linked to increased sea surface temperatures.

However, the bit of the article that I found most disingenuous was when it discusses

why carbon cuts are a terrible way to reduce hurricane damage.

Anyone whose been involved in this topic for as long as Bjorn Lomborg has must realise that carbon cuts are not simply aimed at reducing hurricane damage. Our emission of CO2 into the atmosphere is changing our climate, which has many different impacts. There’s warming of the troposphere, which will likely lead to increase in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves. There’s likely to be an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events. There’s sea level rise, which could have a significant impact on many coastal communities. There will be an expansion of the tropics, substantially changing the climate in some regions. There will probably also be an increase in the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events. These changes will also probably impact droughts and flooding.

So, yes, if all had to worry about was damage due to hurricanes, carbon cuts might well be a poor way to deal with this. However, this clearly is not the only thing we will have to face, and so carbon cuts are not simply meant to address increased damage due to hurricanes. It is probably true that some use hurricanes to highlight some of the risks we might face and to motivate climate action. However, clearly most are not suggesting that the only risk we face in future is increased damages to more extreme hurricanes.

Maybe we should be careful of using things like hurricanes to motivate carbon cuts, since this does ignore many other reasons for doing so. However, you can understand why this happens. Hurricanes can be very impactful events and can draw a lot of public attention. The main problem is probably that doing so then allows bad faith actors to make disingenuous arguments against carbon cuts. I’m not sure, however, that there’s really all that much that we can do to avoid this.

Links:
Climate Science Special Report (2017) – which says Human activities have contributed substantially to observed ocean–atmosphere variability in the Atlantic Ocean (medium confidence), and these changes have contributed to the observed upward trend in North Atlantic hurricane activity since the 1970s (medium confidence).
Intensification of landfalling typhoons over the northwest Pacific since the late 1970s – which says typhoons that strike East and Southeast Asia have intensified by 12–15%, with the proportion of storms of categories 4 and 5 having doubled or even tripled. ….. We find that the increased intensity of landfalling typhoons is due to strengthened intensification rates, which in turn are tied to locally enhanced ocean surface warming on the rim of East and Southeast Asia. (H/T David Appell).

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29 Responses to Hurricanes and carbon cuts

  1. I wanted to add that I’ve used the term hurricanes, since that is the term used in Bjorn Lomborg’s article. A more commonly used term would be Tropical Cyclones.

    I was also going to add that in the article that he was critiquing, there are quotes from many experts. There is also a quote from Ryan Maue (who appears to have blocked me on Twitter after I wrote this post). Ryan says

    observers should “stick to overall trends around the world and not individual cases.”

    Looking for trends is clearly important, but there’s no reason why people shouldn’t also look at individual cases. I realise that single event attribution is an emerging field, but we do have a reasonable understanding of the various factors that can influence these events. Considering individual events, and the conditions in which they form and evolve, is an important part of gaining understanding of these events and how anthropogenically-driven climate change might be influencing them already and how it might influence them in future.

  2. Marco says:

    “Anyone whose been involved in this topic for as long as Bjorn Lomborg has must realise that carbon cuts are not simply aimed at reducing hurricane damage. ”

    I am sure he does. However, taking that into account doesn’t make a nice sophisticated argument that helps spread FUD.

    The motivated reasoning is strong in the Lomborg. Really strong.

  3. JCH says:

    When he told congress Al Gore predicted 20 feet of sea level rise by 2100, I was done with the worthless liar:

  4. HM says:

    What matters is not ” frequency and intensity of the strongest ones” but ” frequency and intensity of the strongest ones that make landfall”

    of the factors
    1 wind shear at the coast – what degrades the strength ‘at the last minute’.
    2 direction

    1 – In the Atlantic (and you are talking about the Atlantic) coastal wind shear increases during the same periods hurricane intensity does http://www4.ncsu.edu/~aaiyyer/papers/aiyyer-thorncroft-2011.pdf

    3 your link ” The average location … is also slowly migrating poleward … which … increases risk in regions that are historically less threatened by these storms” eg Miami does not get hit Baltimore does. so what? And how do you know the poleward trend is not the AMO?

    in the section “what does the data show” your link cites a computer model projection (calling it a study) “A recent study (Garner et al. 2017), for example, shows that the return period of a certain storm surge height in New York City will be reduced from 25 years today to 5 years within the next three decades”.

    Overall it starts talking about wind speed (counting wind speed over open water), then going to rain, finally ending with a computer model. a more accurate framing is TCs are negative accelerations. they take heat energy convert it to angular momentum and moisture, which get dumped on plants, which absorb more CO2

  5. jacksmith4tx says:

    One of these days in the not-to-distant future a machine will predict ALL extreme weather events weeks or even months in advance and this will radically re-frame this issue. It’s will be hard to dismiss the science when it keeps getting the answers right.

    https://www.hpcwire.com/2018/09/20/summit-supercomputer-is-already-making-its-mark-on-science/
    Extreme Weather. A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory-led collaboration that trained a deep neural network to identify extreme weather patterns from high-resolution climate simulations.The team, led by Berkeley data scientist Prabhat, plans to use the AI software to predict how extreme weather is likely to change in the future. By tapping into the specialized tensor cores built into Summit’s NVIDIA GPUs at scale, the Berkeley team achieved a peak performance of 1.13 exaops, the fastest deep-learning algorithm yet reported. Though the team applied its work to climate science, many of its innovations can be adapted for other deep-learning applications.

    This article explains where climate science applies big data to big questions.
    http://www.nersc.gov/news-publications/nersc-news/science-news/2018/old-school-new-school-geometry-physics-and-machine-learning-take-on-climate-research-data-challenges/

  6. HM,

    What matters is not ” frequency and intensity of the strongest ones” but ” frequency and intensity of the strongest ones that make landfall”

    Depends on what you mean by “matters”. If we’re trying to understand how AGW will impact TCs, then we should consider all of them, not simply those that make landfall. Of course, those that do make landfall will probably have the biggest impact on us, but we should be careful of inferring too much from a lack of some kind of attributable trend in these TCs.

    As far as wind shear is concerned, yes there are indications that this may lead to fewer TCs overall (as I said in the post) but there are also indications that we will still see an increase in the frequency and intensity of the strongest ones.

    eg Miami does not get hit Baltimore does. so what?

    One issue is that if regions that typically aren’t impacted by TCs start to become impacted by TCs, then that suggests that they should consider how to prepare for something they might not (or rarely) have experienced before.

    And how do you know the poleward trend is not the AMO?

    I don’t know. What makes you think it could be?

  7. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: Here’s a recent analysis of the link between Hurricane Florence and man-made climate change…

    https://news.ucar.edu/132626/attributing-impact-climate-change-florence-near-real-time

  8. John Hartz says:

    Gien Lomborg’s concern about the poor people of the world, here’s an article that he and his followers will definitely want to read and ponder…

    https://newrepublic.com/article/151269/hurricane-florence-typhoon-mangkhut-unequal-burden-climate-change

  9. John Hartz says:

    I am a big fan of Donald Brown (Ethics and Climate blog). His most recent tome is…

    https://ethicsandclimate.org/2018/09/21/new-evidence-that-climate-change-poses-a-much-greater-threat-to-humanity-than-recently-understood-because-the-intergovernmental-panel-on-climate-change-has-been-systematically-underestimating-climate/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+EthicsAndClimate+%28ETHICS+and+CLIMATE%29

    It’s a long-read, but I encourage everyone to peruse it.

    To wet your appetite, here’s the introductory paragraph of the article…

    Three papers have been recently published that lead to the conclusion that human-induced climate change poses a much more urgent and serious threat to life on Earth than many have thought who have been relying primarily on the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This paper first reviews these papers and then examine the ethical questions by the issues discussed in these papers.

    [Because Brown’s paper addresses a host of climate issues, this comment is somewhat off-topic on this thread. If anyone is offended, I apologize but I did not know where else it would be a better fit. In addition, everyone is now focused on this thread.]

  10. Marco says:

    “they take heat energy convert it to angular momentum and moisture, which get dumped on plants, which absorb more CO2”

    You are aware that not all plants like to be in feet (or more)-deep water?

  11. Mitch says:

    “…One of these days in the not-to-distant future a machine will predict ALL extreme weather events weeks or even months in advance and this will radically re-frame this issue…”

    There is not enough information that we could collect to predict more than about 2 weeks in the future no matter how good the computer. It takes about 5 days for a small disturbance in the western Pacific to become a winter storm in the Pacific Northwest. It only takes a week or so for a small disturbance in the Sahel to become a hurricane. That Sahel disturbance was caused by small disturbances with the Indian Ocean. For month long predictions one would have to predict not only how small disturbances grow into storms or dissipate, but also how the next generation of disturbances grow from that set of disturbances. It is not going to happen.

  12. HM says:

    >>And how do you know the poleward trend is not the AMO?
    >I don’t know. What makes you think it could be?

    I am guessing TCs advect heat and thus change the barometric pressure around them as they move. The deltas — the relative temperatures of the edges to the surroundings at various altitudes — would determine the amount of advection. This in turn would change the surrounding air pressure asymmetrically, and help determine the path the storm takes.
    [I hope this is even somewhat correct.] [ Relevant apparently is Atlantic TCs (aka hurricanes) are ‘warm core’.]

    the question would then become what is the lapse rate at various latitude in various months in various portions of the AMO.

    There’s some old paper on this (minus the AMO dimension) on the NH lapse rate at various latitudes and various months of the year.
    >in July, the lapse rate is nearly constant in respect of latitude between the equator and 50°N,
    >https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02247093

    With a warmer sea surface that constancy may push later in the year. Maybe effecting the lapse rate and the average hurricane path.

  13. jacksmith4tx says:

    “One of these days in the not-to-distant future a machine will predict ALL extreme weather events weeks or even months in advance and this will radically re-frame this issue. It’s will be hard to dismiss the science when it keeps getting the answers right”

    No doubt. And then to top that off, the supercomputers will likely be overkill as some basic physics-based patterns will be discovered.

  14. KeefeAndAmanda says:

    I have lived in Florida almost all my life and my immediate subjective reaction was that Bjorn and everyone else who speaks like this on this subject do not know what they are talking about. I have noticed that over the past almost half century the size of the damaging wind field seems to be a lot worse than before. That is, I’m talking about how far out from the center are winds high enough to cause some problems – not just hurricane force winds but gale force winds and even lower. It seems that near misses many decades ago were a lot less problematic than now – my experience is that near misses bring much more damage compared to before. Generally speaking, my long-time Floridian neighbors and I are more worried about hurricanes than we used to be, and this is based on our experiences living in Florida over many decades, not hype in the news or whatever.

    Regardless of our personal experiences as long-time Florida residents, here are some of the many facts exposed by research that I think could be useful to know:

    Storms are Getting Stronger
    https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/ClimateStorms/page2.php

    Quotes:

    “Already, there is evidence that the winds of some storms may be changing. A study based on more than two decades of satellite altimeter data (measuring sea surface height) showed that hurricanes intensify significantly faster now than they did 25 years ago. Specifically, researchers found that storms attain Category 3 wind speeds nearly nine hours faster than they did in the 1980s.”

    …..

    “But measuring a storm’s maximum size, heaviest rains, or top winds does not capture the full scope of its power. Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, developed a method to measure the total energy expended by tropical cyclones over their lifetimes. In 2005, he showed that Atlantic hurricanes are about 60 percent more powerful than they were in the 1970s. Storms lasted longer and their top wind speeds had increased by 25 percent. (Subsequent research has shown that the intensification may be related to differences between the temperature of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.)”

    What We Know about the Climate Change-Hurricane Connection
    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/what-we-know-about-the-climate-change-hurricane-connection/

    Quotes:

    “Whether or not we see more tropical storms (a matter of continuing research by the scientific community), we know that the strongest storms are getting stronger, with roughly eight meters per second increase in wind speed per degree Celsius of warming. And so it is not likely to be a coincidence that the strongest hurricanes on record (as measured by sustained wind speeds) for the globe, the Northern Hemisphere, the Southern Hemisphere, the Pacific, and now, with Irma, in the open Atlantic, have all been observed over the past two years.”

    Hurricanes are getting fiercer
    https://www.nature.com/news/2008/080903/full/news.2008.1079.html?error=cookies_not_supported&code=ff195072-ab9e-4900-a2bc-09ed48d652ad

    Quote:

    “The maximum wind speeds of the strongest tropical cyclones have increased significantly since 1981, according to research published in Nature this week1. And the upward trend, thought to be driven by rising ocean temperatures, is unlikely to stop at any time soon”

    ……

    “Three years ago, Curry and her team calculated that category 4 and 5 storms have almost doubled in number and proportion since 19702. The study, published two weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck, was later criticized for using a mixture of data taken by various worldwide projects that used different protocols. The new analysis is instead based on a single set of wind-speed data inferred from infrared satellite imagery.”

  15. HM,
    That seems to be rather hand-wavy. I wasn’t looking for you to construct some kind of argument as to why it could be the AMO, rather than AGW. I was really looking for some strong reason as to why it (probably) is the AMO rather than AGW.

  16. I think the key to understanding the AMO is that it is a hemispheric dipole, which contrasts to the equatorial dipole of ENSO.

    Oceanic forcing of the interhemispheric SST dipole associated with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (2018)

    This likely infers that there is a greater latitudinal forcing that applies to AMO than ENSO, which might somehow be related to the greater polar gradient associated with AGW.

    The paper linked to above says “Further analyses of the fully coupled versions of the SOMs (slab ocean models) suggest that the observed interhemispheric dipole of the AMO can be reproduced only by including ocean dynamics related to the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. Our findings highlight that the ocean dynamics play a non-negligible role and should be taken into consideration in better understanding the observed feature of the AMO.”

    I think what this is inferring is that ocean-atmospheric interactions (i.e. wind) may not play a role in AMO, and that instead it is all forced by ocean dynamics?

  17. Dave_Geologist says:

    they take heat energy convert it to angular momentum and moisture

    Cool! Direct energy-to-matter conversion! How very Star-Trek. Can I have one please?

  18. “And how do you know the poleward trend is not the AMO?”

    On reflection, I bet he’s referring to AMOC, not AMO.

  19. HM says:

    >and Then There’s Physics says:
    >That seems to be rather hand-wavy. I wasn’t looking for you to construct some kind of argument as to why it could be the AMO, rather than AGW

    It *was* hand-wavy. You’re right about that!

  20. John Hartz says:

    An outside observer reading this comment thread might conclude that the Earth has only one hemisphere and only one ocean basin, Alas, this perception is not accurate.

    Speaking of the Pacific, there’s more trouble brewing.as we wax eloquently on this thread…

    https://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/dangerous-super-typhoon-trami-to-threaten-taiwan-japan-this-week/70006150.

  21. John Hartz says:

    Let’s take up a collection to buy Lomborg a one-way ticket to Luzon, Philippines so he can explain to locals why Super-Typhoons like Mangkhut will be few and far between in the future.

    http://news.trust.org/item/20180924095341-fm0mv/

    As you may surmise, I have zero respect for a paid shill like Lomborg.

  22. angech says:

    ” global warming does not only increase the wind speed or frequency of strong storms (which is actually two ways of looking at the same phenomenon, as frequency depends on wind speed).”

    That explains the stronger storms are more frequent while the overall number of storms may fall.
    Got it.

  23. Magma says:

    Lomborg’s books and newspaper articles are uniformly awful, with fatal flaws and errors in every one that I’ve read. I wondered if his peer-reviewed publications were any better. However, on checking, the number was startlingly low (excluding publications such as Foreign Policy), just three or four short opinion pieces of which only one (Nature, Sep. 2004, Need for economists to set global priorities) has been cited elsewhere — and that only six times.

    He’s the better-known Susan Crockford of climate change economists/political scientists.

  24. Dave_Geologist says:

    Actually Crockford has got a reasonable citation record when it comes to her core discipline of genetic analysis. Not enough to make her a a global expert in that field, but certainly enough for a journeyman scholar. Not when it comes to Polar Bear ecology, however.

  25. Magma says:

    @ Dave_Geologist

    A fair point. I should have made the context clear.

  26. izen says:

    The paucity of Lomborg’s papers and citations is evidence that he has no substantive traction or influence on the scientific research into climate impacts and their economic effects.
    The minimal role he has in the field makes his published papers look like something to give him a veneer of scientific legitimacy, which flakes away when you scratch the surface.

    Which raises the question what IS the purpose or role of his books, articles and editorials on the subject.?

    Whatever the personal motivation, the actual use and effect of his public communications seems to be restricted to providing a spurious justification for inaction on emissions. The days when his contribution could be viewed as part of the valid discussion of the economics of climate change seems to have faded about a decade ago.

    It is difficult to see him as anything more as a source of false ‘balance’ when media sources that are unwilling to unequivocally address the issue want a ‘contrarian’ voice.
    And organisations like the GWPF want a (tenuously credible) piece of writing that supports their agenda.

    Less interesting than the factual errors and dubious logic of his articles is why media like the New York Post would commission him to write.
    That it is a Murdoch publication may be a clue.

  27. John Hartz says:

    Izen; Well said. Given that Lomborg has become more or less irrelevant to genuine public discourse, perhaps ATTP should resist the temptation to post a commentary on any future articles/op-eds by Lomborg. There’s no need to give him oxygen in this prestigious venue.

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