Wednesday, January 02, 2008

In 2008, a 100 Percent Chance of Alarm

Happy New Year!

To celebrate the brand new 2008, I would like to recommend a great article to start the new year. An article from, of all the publications available online, the New York Times by John Tierney. The title of this post is the same title used in the newspaper. Here's the first part of the article:
I’d like to wish you a happy New Year, but I’m afraid I have a different sort of prediction.

You’re in for very bad weather. In 2008, your television will bring you image after frightening image of natural havoc linked to global warming. You will be told that such bizarre weather must be a sign of dangerous climate change — and that these images are a mere preview of what’s in store unless we act quickly to cool the planet.

Unfortunately, I can’t be more specific. I don’t know if disaster will come by flood or drought, hurricane or blizzard, fire or ice. Nor do I have any idea how much the planet will warm this year or what that means for your local forecast. Long-term climate models cannot explain short-term weather.

But there’s bound to be some weird weather somewhere, and we will react like the sailors in the Book of Jonah. When a storm hit their ship, they didn’t ascribe it to a seasonal weather pattern. They quickly identified the cause (Jonah’s sinfulness) and agreed to an appropriate policy response (throw Jonah overboard).

Here's a particular well thought out commentary:

When Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans in 2005, it was supposed to be a harbinger of the stormier world predicted by some climate modelers. When the next two hurricane seasons were fairly calm — by some measures, last season in the Northern Hemisphere was the calmest in three decades — the availability entrepreneurs changed the subject. Droughts in California and Australia became the new harbingers of climate change (never mind that a warmer planet is projected to have more, not less, precipitation over all).

The most charitable excuse for this bias in weather divination is that the entrepreneurs are trying to offset another bias. The planet has indeed gotten warmer, and it is projected to keep warming because of greenhouse emissions, but this process is too slow to make much impact on the public.

I find it is very insightful to use the word "entrepreneur" to describe the "overwhelming" numbers of global warming scientists. Clearly Science ceases when scientists become an entrepreneur. Anyway if all these are not enough to wet tour appetite, here are more:

Today’s interpreters of the weather are what social scientists call availability entrepreneurs: the activists, journalists and publicity-savvy scientists who selectively monitor the globe looking for newsworthy evidence of a new form of sinfulness, burning fossil fuels.

A year ago, British meteorologists made headlines predicting that the buildup of greenhouse gases would help make 2007 the hottest year on record. At year’s end, even though the British scientists reported the global temperature average was not a new record — it was actually lower than any year since 2001 — the BBC confidently proclaimed, “2007 Data Confirms Warming Trend.”

When the Arctic sea ice last year hit the lowest level ever recorded by satellites, it was big news and heralded as a sign that the whole planet was warming. When the Antarctic sea ice last year reached the highest level ever recorded by satellites, it was pretty much ignored. A large part of Antarctica has been cooling recently, but most coverage of that continent has focused on one small part that has warmed.

There's much more. Read all about it and be enlightened. I guess I find myself truly surprised to read this article from the New York Times. According to Wikipedia, Mr. Tierney, the journalist, "identifies himself as a libertarian." So the surprise for me is that NYT has a libertarian science writer and commentator. May be it's because I am not a NYT reader in general, with or without their motto: "All the News That's Fit to Print." Nevertheless I am intrigued to read an article like this one in NYT, especially Tierney concluded his article alluded to, who else? Algore, the winner of 2007 Nobel Peace Prize:

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Gore didn’t dwell on the complexities of the hurricane debate. Nor, in his roundup of the 2007 weather, did he mention how calm the hurricane season had been. Instead, he alluded somewhat mysteriously to “stronger storms in the Atlantic and Pacific,” and focused on other kinds of disasters, like “massive droughts” and “massive flooding.”

“In the last few months,” Mr. Gore said, “it has been harder and harder to misinterpret the signs that our world is spinning out of kilter.” But he was being too modest. Thanks to availability entrepreneurs like him, misinterpreting the weather is getting easier and easier.

Yes, indeed, it is getting easier and easier. Like I blogged before, even a writer with a B.A. in English from Yale University in 1999 can become a hurricane forecaster and willing to eat crow when his predictions were wrong!

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