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Al Gore, Climate Science, and the Responsibility for Careful Communication

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UPDATE (Aug. 28, 11:45 a.m.): Ezra Klein has confirmed that there was likely a transcript error. Read more.

UPDATE (Aug. 23, 1:35 p.m.): According to Joe Romm at Climate Progress, the full transcript of Vice President Gore’s remarks was incorrectly transcribed by the Post. Read more.

When I was in fourth grade, I wrote Vice President Al Gore a letter about my passion for saving the planet and I was ecstatic when he wrote back. I believed then, as I do now, that he is a strong voice for issues with an environmental component such as climate change. And, importantly, he has become, to many people, the public face of climate science.

He deserves great praise for these Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning efforts. But unfortunately he recently got it wrong about the science of climate change.

Changes in hurricane intensity or not, climate change has serious impacts on our society now.

Changes in hurricane intensity or not, climate change has serious impacts on our society now.

In an exclusive interview with the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein published yesterday, Gore inaccurately suggested that the hurricane scale will now include a category 6 (current scale is 1 through 5). He said the following:

“The extreme events are more extreme. The hurricane scale used to be 1-5 and now they’re adding a 6. The fingerprint of man-made global warming is all over these storms and extreme weather events.”

As was pointed out earlier today by Jason Samenow, chief meteorologist at the Capital Weather Gang, this is untrue. There are no plans by the National Hurricane Center—the federal office responsible for categorizing storms—to create a new category. Though, it is worth noting that the rest of the interview included accurate and important information and it’s unfortunate that this blip made its way in.

Since writing that letter as a ten-year-old, I’ve earned a degree in atmospheric science and learned to value to the role that science plays in informing public policy. Science—and climate change especially—needs effective communicators in order for us to make policy decisions informed by science. It is resoundingly important that such communicators get the science right. This helps instill trust in the research and allows us to create strong policies based on what the science tell us.

And the science tells us a whole lot. Climate change will have consequences for us, and some of them will be severe. And yes, scientists have more confidence in some of these effects than others. Though there is some evidence that climate change will influence hurricanes, the effect of climate change on hurricane intensity and hurricane frequency is complex and scientists are continuing to study the connection. Hurricanes in the North Atlantic region have been intensifying over the past 40 years but not elsewhere in the world. By contrast, scientists have high confidence that sea level will rise all over the world, and particularly fast in some areas like the East Coast. With this knowledge, we can say with certainty that action is warranted, though the type of action necessary will vary based on how communities want to respond.

Politicians and others can be effective communicators of climate science and guide us toward policy action, but they risk creating confusion and eroding public confidence in science when they make misrepresentative statements. In a similar fashion, just last month several politicians from both sides of the aisle made misrepresentative statements. Some overstated the link between climate change and hurricanes. Others dismissed the whole body of climate science entirely.

We should be clear. Attacking science or scientists – or repudiating all of climate science – erodes trust in and understanding of science far more than occasional overstatements about extreme weather and climate change. Take, for instance, Sen. Jim Inhofe calling for investigating climate scientists simply because he doesn’t like their research results, or consider the pundits and talk show hosts who have accused scientists – without evidence – of simply manufacturing all their climate change data.

Politicians who appreciate science and act as its ambassadors have a special responsibility, especially when it comes to science that has particular bearing on policy making. When they are less familiar with the science, it’s best for them to stick to what we know with confidence.

In a warming world with rising seas, planning for hurricanes will be more challenging. In fact, planning for all coastal storms will be more challenging. And this will be true no matter if hurricanes increase or decrease in intensity and frequency. Even without a “category 6,” the weight of the evidence of concerning climate impacts is overwhelming. And as I know my fourth-grade-self would agree, the time to act is now.

UPDATE: August 23, 1:35 p.m.

According to Joe Romm at Climate Progress, the full transcript of Vice President Gore’s remarks, which was incorrectly transcribed by the Post, was:

“The scientists are now adding category 6 to the hurricane…some are proposing we add category 6 to the hurricane scale that used to be 1-5.”

We hope the Post will update its original article to reflect Gore’s original statement.

It’s also true, as Romm points out, that at least one scientist has gone on the record recently saying there might need to be a new category. And while to our knowledge there have been no official meetings or workshops to discuss a new Category Six, it is probably accurate to say scientists have independently discussed or considered it, though the meaning of “proposed” is open to interpretation.

In any case, I still believe politicians should focus on science that is more certain and more actionable from a policy perspective, such as the obvious rise in sea levels.

It’s also worth noting that there could be other reasons to change how we categorize hurricanes besides an increase in wind speed, namely public safety. Even a sub-category one storm that makes landfall can be incredibly destructive, and this will only be increasingly true with higher sea levels.

I believe it is important to stand up for science—no matter who it criticizes. At the Center for Science and Democracy, we believe this is essential for preserving a debate founded on the facts. Accepting what the science tells us (no matter how inconvenient), correcting mistakes when found (as here), and incorporating new information are all part of the scientific process. This is how we move forward and in this case, I hope we can.

UPDATE: August 28, 11:45 a.m.

Ezra Klein has confirmed that there was likely a transcript error and Gore said that “some are proposing” a new Category 6 as opposed to “they’re adding” one. This revised statement is accurate, though still a bit speculative. I wrote a CNN Op-Ed over the weekend wrapping up the reaction to Gore’s comments and encouraging politicians and advocates to stick to scientific findings with greater certainty, such as the link between climate change and rising seas.

 

Posted in: Global Warming, Science and Democracy Tags: ,

About the author: Gretchen Goldman is a lead analyst in the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS. She holds a PhD and MS in environmental engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a BS in atmospheric science from Cornell University. See Gretchen's full bio. Follow her on Twitter at @GretchenTG.

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  • http://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com Russell Seitz

    The late Henry Kendall would applaud the UCS candor in noticing Mr. Gore’s solecism.

    It has happened before, and it will happen again, for despite his evident enthusiasm for environmental advocacy, the former vice president’s grasp of the underlying science remains,decidedly amatuer, witness his prime time exaggeration of the earth’s interior temperature by three orders of magnitude , and the infinite rate of extinction curve in the origina printings of The Earth In the Balance.

  • Rob Dekker

    We all have these moments. Your favorite charity sends a renewal notice, but you have not seen any particular action from them in the past year that stood out. You also have not seen anything from them that was particularly bad. So the renewal notice remains on your desk, waiting for a sign in one direction or another.

    Well, Dr. Gretchen, I think you have given this sign to me on what to do with my renewal notice for the UCS Kendall society.

    Let’s analyze what Dr. Gretchen concludes from the ONE sentence “The hurricane scale used to be 1-5 and now they’re adding a 6″ in a Washington Post publication : ”

    From this singe sentence, Gretchen claims that Al Gore, who “has become, to many people, the public face of climate science” unfortunately “got it wrong about the science of climate change”.

    Moreover, she emphasizes the sentence by stating “it is worth noting that the rest of the interview included accurate and important information and it’s unfortunate that this blip made its way in.”

    To rub this “blip” even further into Al Gore’s face, Gretchen emphasizes that “Science – and climate change especially – needs effective communicators .and “It is resoundingly important that such communicators get the science right.”.

    Gretchen then argues that such “politicians and others” “risk creating confusion and eroding public confidence in science when they make misrepresentative statements” and “Politicians who appreciate science and act as its ambassadors have a special responsibility, ” and as a conclusion : “When they are less familiar with the science, it’s best for them to stick to what we know with confidence.”.

    So now, it turns out that particular sentence was a Washington Post transcript error, and in fact Al Gore did not make ANY statement misrepresenting science.
    And the journalist apologized for that error.

    So, what does Gretchen do after the balance of her argument was proven to be incorrect and her assertion that Al Gore “got it wrong about the science of climate change” remains without evidence, and thus a myth ?

    Does she retract her article ? No.
    Does she apologize to Al Gore, and/or to UCS or posting an incorrect assertion about Al Gore’s statement on behalf of UCS ? No.
    Does she at least see the irony of her patronizing statements about these “politicians and others” making “misrepresentative statements” meanwhile posting a blatantly false (not even misrepresentative) statement about Gore’s statements ? No.

    She DOES eventually post an update stating that there was a transcript error, but rather than acting scientifically, by analyzing how much of her post is still valid after this new evidence came in, she simply amplifies the myth she created herself by pointing to her CNN op-ed titled :”The Al Gore hurricane hubbub”.

    WTF ? Gretchen, why are you proliferating a myth and ignore the evidence that the hurricane hubbub was caused by a transcript error ? While you have such a great opportunity to set the record straight on what exactly Al Gore “got wrong”.

    Because looking at this UCS post, and your CNN article, and the obvious 6000+ Al Gore smearing comments that attracted, I was not aware that it is now open hunting season on Al Gore, using misleading and incorrect assertions that YOU helped to proliferate and failed to correct nor retract.

    That is why I asked WHICH part of your post here is your opinion and which part is the opinion of UCS.

    Is this the way that UCS now interprets “Responsible Communication” of scientific statements or is it just your way ?

  • Rob Dekker

    Gretchen,

    Your post, and specifically your statement that “A Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) expert” says that Al Gore “got it wrong” is going viral as we speak.

    Google “ucs al gore” and see for yourself how many web sites copied what you said, add their own “context” and opinions, and see how this statement proliferates through internet.
    I count at least 23 new posts in the past 24 hours.
    Some as recent as a few hours ago still referencing this page.

    So.

    Now that it is clear that Al Gore did not overstate findings, and journalist Ezra Klein apologized for misquoting Al Gore :
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/08/23/al-gore-and-category-6-hurricanes/
    and Jason Samenow has now officially stated “Thus, I retract the balance of my criticism “,
    isn’t it time for UCS to stop this myth from spreading any further ?

    At the moment, your only update is from Aug 23 and puts the burden on Joe Romm.
    This is the very Joe Romm who actually got it right, and who was the one that exposed the truth in the first place. But no casual visitor of this UCS web site will know that, since you only state “According to Joe Romm at Climate Progress…”.

    So, now that your statement about Al Gore that “he recently got it wrong about the science of climate change.” appears to be incorrect, and that instead the mistake was an innocent transcript error by the Washington Post journalist, but that your statement is still spread far and wide, I request, on behalf of the Responsibility for Careful Communication, could you please set the record straight, and post an unambiguous “update” retracting your allegations and critique ?

    And it would be nice if you could clarify exactly which part in your post is the opinion of UCS, and which part is your own.

  • mary cartier

    I only saw one piece of evidence here, from Dr. Emmanuel’s presentation, a graph showing increasing dissipated cyclone energy since the 1950’s. It was unclear what the source was for the graph was and appeared to be connected to the downscaling models showing a predicted increase in coming years. Not much to go on. As he pointed out, relatively accurate data is only available since 1958. And the methods used over that period are changing continually. So it would be no surprise if more an higher wind speeds have been detected more recently, biasing the trend upward.

    I was perturbed by Dr. Emmanuel’s comparison of different model predictions using downscaling to estimate increased hurricane intensity. The fact that there was no significant agreement between the models is telling. How can anyone evaluate which model, if any, is correct? One model would be sufficient if it was properly constructed. Mixing results from 5 bad models tells me nothing.

  • uffe veilberg

    I have had a talk with scientists in Denmark about the global Warming
    I beleive that The Ozon holes is Warming up-(UV from the sun) under the ice cap, and the ice is melted from below rapidly (this is documented by a Danish Team studying the Ice in Greenland this year..
    therefore it is not the CO2 which gives the climate changes
    it is the missing OZON-
    in accordance with new studying from scientists
    see
    :http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130530132443.htm
    and from earlier year see:
    Therefore a solution is that we must produce OZON in a large scale ex. in the polare area.
    We could use ex. “Tesla” coile (new developed)using Wind or Water power
    Also it is a great problem for the Companies which has produced CFC gasses and the like..ex. Dupont.. and the US government which has not stopped the production of these gasses in due time..
    Though it is a problem that aircraft produces CO2- when flying high in the athmosphere
    and consuming OZON and Oxygen,

  • charles glenn

    I am not a scientist I just remember 7th grade and history I learned before we started indoctrinating children. I remembered the ice ages and the reason the dark ages ended in europe was the Midevil? warming that allowed people to stop spending so much time gathering food and to start thinking again I also remembered at the time there was this era called the little ice age that ended about 1875 and I wondered about all this in 1989 when I first heard about global warming and I still wondering about this.

  • Richard Wakefield

    I posted: Show me the science data to back up your claim that extreme weather is happening more frequently.

    Since no one has done that, guess that means it doesnt exist, therefor your assertion is pure nonsense. Nothing is happening beyond normal variation. If CO2 has any influence on climate change it cant be measured apart from the noise.

    • Rande M
      • Richard Wakefield

        Let’s be clear about the IPCC. It is a political organization, not a science organization. Plus, much has changed since the last report on the science of extreme events.

        Second, this is what the IPCC actually says:

        “Detection and attribution as well as modelling studies indicate more uncertainty regarding the causes of early 20th-century warming than the recent warming. A number of studies detect a significant natural contribution to early 20th-century warming (Tett et al., 2002; Stott et al., 2003b; Nozawa et al., 2005; Shiogama et al., 2006). ”

        http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch9s9-4-1-5.html

        The rate of change of temperatures from 1850 to 1940 was the same as the rate of change from 1975 to 2000 (which has been flat since).

        Thus the IPCC admits there is no human component to early 20th century, there for there is no evidence the later 20th century is any faster which can be connected only because of our CO2.

        You have just re-enforced that there is no evidence things are changing faster today than any other time in geological time, not even recent human history.

        UCS is supposed to be a science organization, but your lack of skepticism of AGW, like we must be with all other science, is greatly disappointing, and questions your motives for continued promotion of AGW.

  • Steve Church

    Looks like Richard has found more fish for his troll bait.

    “Which is 6 inches in 100 years. There is no acceleration in the rate of rise ” – and then quotes a Tony T.Watt article reverencing something based on Grace data to prove otherwise.
    That’s deception, since the exclusion of TOPEX/Poseidon, J1/J2 turns it into a contrived conclusion. Here’s the status at CSIRO:
    http://www.cmar.csiro.au/sealevel/sl_hist_last_15.html
    Trend = 3.2mm/year – Jan1993-Apr2013
    Their analysis: “This is more than 50% larger than the average value over the 20th century. Whether or not this represents a further increase in the rate of sea level rise is not yet certain.”

    “The fact of the matter is Gore lies and misrepresents science in order to increase his personal wealth”
    That’s not a fact, that’s a paranoid delusional fiction at the least, and libelous slander at the most.

    “What evidence do you have that the rate of change is faster today than any other time in the geological past? ”
    None, unless the Big Bang counts. But for climate disruption, the parallels to the current rate of disruptions usually cited are major extinction events. Neither entering nor exiting Ice Ages (except for Dansgaard-Oeschgar events, and the onset/end of the Younger Dryas) matches the current rate of upheaval. Forget the science, it’s beyond you (you can’t even respect the topic – Gore’s Cat6 misquote); here’s a Bloomberg article:
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-07-03/un-charts-unprecedented-global-warming-since-2000.html

    “So show me a science paper which measures hurricanes happening more frequently than any other time in Earth history.”
    Again with the nonsensical hyperbole about Earth’s history – here’s something easier, Kerry Emmanual’s increased power of hurricanes slide show 2009
    http://www.slideshare.net/jatkeison/emanuel-webinar-2009
    Take your beef up with Dr. Hurricane instead of yelling that your off-topic demand should get immediate attention.

    “I downloaded all the daily data from Environment Canada” So what? You picked a peak point of the 30s to start counting fewer heat wave days. That’s just deception. You even give up your own deception by referencing the heated North America of the 30s.

    “Record breaking days has nothing to do with a warming climate”
    It sure does, when it’s recorded all over the globe. From the Bloomberg article:
    re, the 2000-2010 period “Almost 94 percent of countries logged their warmest 10 years on record,” , so feed your Canadian mini-base to the Wawa Goose.

    “Climate science’s predictions of the future have been dismal failures”
    Quite the opposite – the big-picture was sketched out half a century ago, and it’s never ever been seriously knocked over. The hockey stick turned into a hockey team. Every down-blip has the pro-pollutionists yelling haha … and then the temperature gauge points back up. Your comments are rife with it. Hint: the strength of the Greenhouse Effect is proportional to its concentration.

    “Hurricane Hazel was worse,” No it wasn’t. It never even made Cat 5. It’s claim to fame was its inland path, reaching Canada, and hitting a target that was already saturated from a month of rainstorms. It was the worst storm of the 1954 season.

    Okay, bottom line – your self-centered ego barged into a topic on UCS and hijacked it. You basically regurgitated your worn-out material, added some Wuddupwidat, and then demanded a court-session to make everyone prove AGW on your terms with your selection of allowable data. You added nothing to the topic under the headline. You showed no respect for the science, and claimed ad hominem damage while tossing it at Mr. Gore. Go away. You’re just a pro-pollutionist with an old, useless, spreadsheet.

    Ms. Goldman, my apologies. Whatever the reaction and opinion about the Cat6/Gore issue, it deserves discussion and attention. Richard Wakefield appears to be a very familiar troll from central Canada. He appears to have the same grasp of the subject as Peter Kent … and everyone knows how much that wasn’t.

  • Richard Wakefield

    “such as the obvious rise in sea levels”

    Which is 6 inches in 100 years. There is no acceleration in the rate of rise. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/07/03/new-study-using-grace-data-shows-global-sea-levels-rising-less-than-7-inches-per-century/

  • Gina Becker

    But we’re breaking a record right now, the longest period since a major (category 3 or above) hurricane to make U.S. landfall–breaking it by a long shot, by years. The number of major hurricanes is not increasing. Why the hype about this?

  • Jonathan Katz

    It would be easier to take Gore seriously if he didn’t fly in a private airplane, have a house the uses (according to press reports) twenty times as much electricity as the average American house, and have a financial stake in renewable energy. If you profess concern about carbon emissions, integrity requires you to limit your own emissions; what is enough for the average American (and far above the world-wide average) should be enough for you. Morally, the rules apply to everyone, even those with the money to emit more.

  • Steve Marks

    “Accepting what the science tells us (no matter how inconvenient), correcting mistakes when found (as here), and incorporating new information are all part of the scientific process. This is how we move forward and in this case, I hope we can.”

    With all due respect, Dr. Goldman, what “mistakes” are you correcting? Based on the corrected text, it appears as if the only potential error is the question of what “proposed” means. As Joe Romm’s post makes clear, scientists have indeed proposed this. Unfortunately, I believe you’ve moved this significantly backward without any real purpose other than appearing in headlines. If you are truly interested in correcting mistakes or communicating carefully, a true retraction is in order. And I’m still saddened to see an organization like UCS give a mouthpiece for things like this. Truly disappointing.

  • Steve Marks

    Wow, who needs enemies when we have “friends” like UCS? Not only did Joe Romm just show how this is completely out of context, but even if it had been correct, how does it help serve the mission of solving global warming to attack one of its most effective messengers? I’m sure it helped UCS get some press coverage, but honestly, every time the Politicos of the world can write a “Scientist says Al Gore exaggerated”, the cause is set back significantly. I’d be interested to see UCS defend the importance of this type of public communication, especially since it’s now clear they were wrong – but of course, an “update” will only occur after the damage has been done.

    Steve

  • Rande M

    I do not see, as yet, a correction of the misquote from Klein’s WaPo interview on which you base this piece. You owe Al Gore an apology.
    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/08/23/2516221/gore-hurricanes/
    But, of course, why ruin the media myth of “AL GORE, BIG FAT LIAR”?

    • Rande M

      AND, by the way- The “responsibility for careful communication” who seem to fall on the Washington Post and Ezra Klein. It was their piss poor editing which changed the meaning.

  • Richard Wakefield

    The fact of the matter is Gore lies and misrepresents science in order to increase his personal wealth through AGW scaremongering. And this organization endorses him. That’s the real crime here. I highly doubt UCS will send Gore a formal letter chastising him for this, and other mistakes. That’s all OK if it supports the message, right?

  • http://www.abeqas.com Michael Wallace

    Gretchen thanks for this article. I am also curious as to a good reference you might know for power spectra of seasonal total atmospheric energies over the satellitic period.

    • http://www.ucsusa.org/about/staff/staff/gretchen.html Gretchen Goldman

      Good question, Michael. I am not aware of a good reference for power spectra of seasonal total atmospheric energies. Anyone else have suggestions on this?

  • Bill McConnell

    You stated “Hurricanes in the North Atlantic region have been intensifying over the past 40 years but not elsewhere in the world.” I would like to see your data on that. This is not born out by NOAA’s long term history of Atlantic storm tracks. http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/data/#tracks_all Looking at the number & classification of hurricanes it appears that the opposite is true.

    • http://www.ucsusa.org/about/staff/staff/gretchen.html Gretchen Goldman

      Bill,

      Apologies for not linking directly to that reference. The statement is a paraphrase of the discussion on changes in tropical cyclone frequency and intensity in the IPCC SREX report (Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation). The discussion I reference is on page 159 of Chapter 3:

      http://ipcc-wg2.gov/SREX/images/uploads/SREX-Chap3_FINAL.pdf

      Specifically, here is the longer discussion with original in-text citations:

      “Frequency estimation requires only that a tropical cyclone be identified and reported at some point in its lifetime, whereas intensity estimation requires a series of specifically targeted measurements over the entire duration of the tropical cyclone (e.g., Landsea et al., 2006). Consequently, intensity values in the historical records are especially sensitive to changing technology and improving methodology, which heightens the challenge of detecting trends within the backdrop of natural variability. Global reanalyses of tropical cyclone intensity using a homogenous satellite record have suggested that changing technology has introduced a non-stationary bias that inflates trends in measures of intensity(Kossin et al., 2007), but a significant upward trend in the intensity of the strongest tropical cyclones remains after this bias is accounted for (Elsner et al., 2008). While these analyses are suggestive of a link between observed global tropical cyclone intensity and climate change, they are necessarily confined to a roughly 30-year period of satellite observations, and cannot provide clear evidence for a longer-term trend.

      Time series of power dissipation, an aggregate compound of tropical cyclone frequency, duration, and intensity that measures total energy consumption by tropical cyclones, show upward trends in the North
      Atlantic and weaker upward trends in the western North Pacific over the past 25 years (Emanuel, 2007), but interpretation of longer-term trends in this quantity is again constrained by data quality concerns. The variability and trend of power dissipation can be related to SST and other local factors such as tropopause temperature and vertical wind shear (Emanuel, 2007), but it is a current topic of debate whether local SST or the difference between local SST and mean tropical SST is the more physically relevant metric (Swanson, 2008). The distinction is an important one when making projections of changes in power dissipation based on projections of SST changes, particularly in the tropical Atlantic where SST has been increasing more rapidly than in the tropics as a whole (Vecchi et al., 2008). Accumulated cyclone energy, which is an integrated metric analogous to power dissipation, has been declining globally since reaching a high point in 2005, and is presently at a 40- year low point (Maue, 2009). The present period of quiescence, as well as the period of heightened activity leading up to the high point in 2005, does not clearly represent substantial departures from past variability (Maue, 2009).”

      In addition, the recent Emanuel paper provides some further insight on the topic:

      http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/07/05/1301293110.abstract

      • Bill McConnell

        Until the IPCC gets out of politics I won’t believe anything they say. The NOAA record of North Atlantic hurricanes does not support their conclusion. In fact the statement you posted is loaded with caveats regarding any conclusions that can be drawn from their analysis. Science should be better than this.

  • Jack Savage

    Very unwise to criticise the Great She-Elephant of Catastrophic Global Warming Alarmism. His self-appointed High Priests will come down on you like a ton of bricks.

    Oh, Hello, Greg!

  • Rob Sermon

    Please, please post this, Mods…A question for all scientists, including those with the UCS…

    When, in the history of earth, has the climate ever been static? Was it when the Arctic icecap was as far south as Indiana? Ya know, the icecap that formed the Great Lakes, and tens of thousand glacial lakes, that have the best fishing in North America?

    Just when was the climate static?

    • Phil S.

      It’s not a question of whether or not the climate is static (it isn’t – and no one ever said that it was). Indeed, the climate has changed a great deal over the last several billion years, owing to processes that have nothing to do with humans.

      Instead, the question is about rate of change. Natural shifts in the climate occur over eons. The climate change we’re observing today – and predicting to get much worse – is happening at an incredibly alarming rate. It doesn’t seem like much, but if the average global surface temperature raises even a single degree over the next xx years (and models disagree on the exact number), the ramifications for ecosystems, wildlife, weather cycles, and much more are all quite serious.

      What would normally happen over literally thousands or millions of years is happening very quickly, and it affects some of the processes central to our existence. Understanding it, preventing it if possible, and mitigating its negative consequences are all, in my opinion, not only scientifically valid endeavors, but morally necessary.

      So yeah. Kind of a big deal.

      • Richard Wakefield

        What evidence do you have that the rate of change is faster today than any other time in the geological past? Hard to understand how you can come to that conclusion in only 50 years of measurements, when there is no way to get such fine measurements in the geological past.

      • Phil S.

        Hi Richard – there are a number of indirect measures that help us understand historical climate change. These include ice cores, tree rings, glacier lengths, pollen remains, and ocean sediments, and by studying changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun. The science behind these methods is well documented, heavily scrutinized, and quite robust.

        If you’d like to learn more, here’s a good beginner’s introduction: http://www.amazon.com/About-Climate-Change-Boston-Review/dp/0262018438/ref=dp_ob_title_bk/183-3293444-5365834

        The notion that we can only measure and understand directly observed phenomena is, to be honest, quite flawed. It displays a misunderstanding of how all science (not just climate science) works.

      • Richard Wakefield

        But no links to any science paper which measures climate events happening faster today than any other time. That’s what counts, actual empirical measurements.

        So show me a science paper which measures hurricanes happening more frequently than any other time in Earth history.

        Show me a science paper which measures more frequent heat waves, tornadoes, etc.

        I keep asking believers in AGW to provide such papers, but they never do, instead they resort to ad hominem attacks.

      • Phil S.

        I suggest you check out the book I linked to – it contains a wealth of information you may be interested in. If you’d rather have access to something right now, UCS has published plenty of papers addressing the questions you raise.

        Here is one on increased extreme heat events: http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/global_warming/Heat-in-the-Heartland-Full-Report.pdf

        A little Googling will find you many, many more examples. The science is staring you in the face.

      • Richard Wakefield

        I downloaded all the daily data from Environment Canada for every station going back as far as they have data. What i found was the number of heat wave days has declined since the 1930’s. And declined significantly, by 30% fewer heat wave days (over 30C). But the average temperature is increasing. How can that be? Thats because the coldest days in winter are fewer. Temperatures in Canada are less cold winters. I will read that and get back. But the question must be asked, how do you know that increase isnt normal? How much less would that increase be if not for our CO2.

      • Richard Wakefield

        Read the pdf, now right off I have a serious issue with the tone and the cherry picking of data.

        “all but eight states reported above average summer temperatures, and four
        states broke records for extreme heat.”

        Record breaking days has nothing to do with a warming climate, it has everything to do with accounting. Our records only go back to around 1900 (and very few stations at that.) The first day records were kept were record breaking days. Each subsequent year the number of record breaking days drops off in a decay curve as more slots of possible temps are filled in. Take one day, say in July, and look at the total number of possible temps, assuming a min of 15C and a max of 35C (20C range). Temps are measured in 1/10ths of a degree. That’s 200 possible temps in that one day. It’s simple enough to write a program to randomly pick any temp within that range, for every day of the year, and see how long it takes to fill in all possible slots. It’s 3,000 years! What is important isnt that a particular day is a record breaker (for example reaching 30.2C on July 10th of this year, when record days of the rest of July was 35C back in the 1930’s). What’s important is the number of days above 30C per year. In North America that is dropping (and I can prove that).

        “…such sticky, steamy, uncomfortable weather is poised to become even more common as our climate warms.” “Scientists project that this trend
        will worsen over the next century.”

        Climate science’s predictions of the future have been dismal failures and nothing but pure speculation. Predictions are not evidence. Climate models are not evidence.

        “But hot, humid days are not just uncomfortable. extreme heat kills.”

        Since A/C has become wide spread from the 1970s on wards the number of heat deaths per year have plummeted. This data is at the WHO and easy to find. What I find particularly cheery picked is that the number of winter deaths from severe cold is somewhere round 4 times the summer deaths. Yet to state so would diminish this documents message.

        “We drew on weather data from the 1940s and 1950s…” “we analyzed some 60 years of data on air masses in five large midwestern cities”

        Conveniently ignoring the hottest period in the US, the 1930s, and picked the period when global temps were falling.

        This document is a propaganda piece. I asked for a peer reviewed science papers which measured that extreme weather is happening more frequently. This isnt it.

        I’m not some ignorant average person you can con. Show me the science data to back up your claim that extreme weather is happening more frequently.

    • http://www.zeemoshows.com Paul Kyprie

      What is up with the begging to get posted. If you comment has merit the moderators will post it.
      However, the question Rob poses is unrelated to the article. No one said the climate has been static as Phil notes.
      What puzzles me is the folksy tone of the post, Ya Know, and like scientists didn’t where the great lakes came from. Rob appears to me to be a paid shill for big oil interests.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/ Greg Laden

    If you are going to criticize Vice President Gore on this particular point you should make sure that your criticism is not misleading!

    As you seem to state it here, there is “no need” for a Cat 6 designation because we are not expecting an increase in storm strength. But that is not why there is no Category 6 designation. The designer of the scale has stated that the categories have to do with levels of destruction and once you are at 5, you’re pretty much seeing everything flattened in the sustained wind field. Adding a “Category 6″ would be like adding “Extra dead” to a listing of how sick you can be. THAT is the reason there is no Category 6, not because there is not a class of super strong storms.

    If we wanted to categorize storms by energy level we certain would have a Cat 6 category, and a few storms would be in that category. And, there really was discussion about doing this a couple of years back, but mainly among media people. Al Gore was not completely of the mark here.

    The “jury is still out” about future changes with hurricanes. There is very good evidence that hurricanes have increased in strength and/or frequency over the recent decades of global warming. Science denialists are working very hard to make sure that people don’t know this. The level of increase and its meaning is unclear, and it is unclear what is going to happen in the future. Certainly, though, Sandy was an example of a hurricane following an unusual trajectory, and that trajectory was because of negative Arctic Oscillation, and that in turn was probably because of “Arctic Amplification” … an effect of global warming. So maybe we don’t have to worry that there will be more Atlantic hurricanes or stronger ones, but if running into Conn/NY/NJ once every couple/few years becomes a thing, that would be important.

    • http://www.ucsusa.org/about/staff/staff/gretchen.html Gretchen Goldman

      Thanks for your comments, Greg. Our main concern was with the fact that Gore’s comments suggested that categories were measuring storm intensity (even if they are actually based on level of destruction), and thus, that adding a category six would suggest hurricanes were increasing in intensity due to climate change. You are correct that more hurricanes slamming the East Coast would indeed be important and concerning, if this is the case. And I agree that the possibility of arctic amplification due to climate change could have real impacts on hurricane activity. Research in this area will be increasingly important, I think.

    • Richard Wakefield

      “Certainly, though, Sandy was an example of a hurricane following an unusual trajectory, and that trajectory was because of negative Arctic Oscillation, and that in turn was probably because of “Arctic Amplification” … an effect of global warming”

      Hurricane Hazel was worse, but being in 1954 was before the IPCC mile post of when supposed human caused climate change started. If it weren’t for human emissions of CO2 how much less intense would Sandy have been? 10%, 50% less? Not at all?

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