The staggering thought we cause stormsRichard Treadgold | September 2, 2011
This is from The Nelson Daily (British Columbia) on 31 Aug 2011. The story tries to induce anxiety about the increased storminess we humans are causing.
The idea is as loony as thinking that sacrificing a virgin to the gods might increase the harvest.
The title is Hurricane Irene and the staggering costs of climate change, and the first thing I notice is that the author, Richard Matthews, has a professional grip on the landscape of global warming and its off-shoots.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment.
He has, in short, very good business reasons to magnify man’s impact on the environment, including our contribution to global warming. Matthews’ opening statement leads the way in brushing aside the need for evidence or logic.
Extreme weather events like Hurricane Irene illustrate the costs of man’s impact on the earth.
This statement is evidence only of a strong belief.
The planet has been getting warmer since the dawn of the industrial age and for every one degree rise in temperature, moisture rises by seven per cent.
But the observed record of water vapour at various altitudes since 1948 show variability, no sign of increase, and a modest decline.
Scientists predict that warmer temperatures will increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Or to put it another way, global warming amplifies the risk factors for extreme weather events.
Scientists say with equal authority that warmer temperatures will not do that. First, there is no evidence of increased frequency. Second, scientists explain that the severity of storms is moderated by the pole-to-equator thermal gradient; the larger the gradient, the more severe the storm. But as global temperatures rise, the pole-to-equator thermal gradient is predicted to reduce.
So it’s the opposite of what our Richard says: we should expect less severe storms as temperatures rise.
In a paper earlier this year, tropical cyclone numbers and energy were reported to be dramatically reduced from historical levels.
Guided by its research, the insurance industry expects that extreme weather events will become routine.
The insurance industry — did you know? — makes its living by selling insurance. The more it sells, the more money it makes. It can be expected to highlight and even exaggerate future risks in order to persuade us to buy more insurance. The insurance industry is a prejudiced and unreliable witness in this discussion.
In contradiction of the insurance industry’s rosy expectation, a recent paper from the CSIRO predicts fewer cyclones and smaller waves with future warming.
But not everyone is guided by rational enquiry; there are many other Americans who are still confused about the scientific veracity of climate change.
Although scientists are reluctant to make definitive statements, in 2011, most will agree that there is a strong and growing body of evidence supporting the existence of anthropogenic global warming.
It’s hard to know what Matthews is getting at here. But climate changes all the time. Nobody is confused about that. However, we want to know the evidence that he says makes up a “strong and growing” body. What is it?
In Scientific American, John Carey explains it this way, ”Until recently scientists had only been able to say that more extreme weather is ‘consistent’ with climate change caused by greenhouse gases that humans are emitting into the atmosphere.
“Now, however, they can begin to say that the odds of having extreme weather have increased because of human-caused atmospheric changes—and that many individual events would not have happened in the same way without global warming.”
I can “begin to say” that Matthews has no cause to assert that human behaviour caused, increased the likelihood of or increased the intensity of Hurricane Irene.
Hurricane Irene illustrates that extreme weather can be very costly.
We already knew that, blockhead.
What makes Irene noteworthy is not its severity, but its location. Landlocked Vermont is not a place normally associated with a tropical storm, yet floodwaters surged through that state and many others in the East.
This is natural variation; it’s not the first time tropical cyclones have made it that far north and it won’t be the last. It’s nothing to do with us.
For Vermont, these were the worst floods in 83 years. In addition to washing out roads and destroying buildings, Irene forced the temporary closure of several power plants. Airlines said they were forced to cancel 12,000 flights, a record for the industry and Manhattan took the unprecedented step of halting all public transportation.
Floods are a potential environmental health hazard even after the waters recedes. Floodwaters carry toxic waste, animal remains, and sewage, creating an aggressive breeding ground for mold and bacteria.
The exact cost of Irene is not yet known, but so far the financial toll of Irene is up to $7 billion nationally, with insured losses of between $3 and $4 billion. The costs begin to accrue in a significant way when extreme weather events become climate disasters.
Yes, dreadful. Yes, hurtful and damaging. But nothing that we did caused any of it, except for building our communities in a dangerous place. Any spot on the Earth is a dangerous place.
This year (2011) is already the most expensive year ever for extreme weather in the U.S. and the hurricane season is not yet half over. Hurricane Irene will help push the 2011 climate disaster costs past the previous record of 35 billion set in 2008.
This year, there have been ten separate disasters that caused an economic loss of $1 billion or more in the U.S, beating the record set in 2008. “The “new reality” is that both the frequency and the cost of extreme weather are rising, making the nation more economically vulnerable and putting more lives and livelihoods at risk,” the NOAA’s Hayes said.
Inflation alone ensures that this decade’s storm damage will cost more than last decade’s, and population increases also push the costs up. There’s no reason to frighten us into thinking that we’re somehow responsible for the storms too. The only “new reality” is the opportunity the global warming scare presents to extract money from everyone.
There is widespread agreement that the cost of the financial crisis of 2007/8 was monumental, but far too few are concerned about the costs associated with anthropogenic environmental damage.
It’s non-scientific to allege that these costs of storm damage are caused by our activities. However, Matthews uses this disconnected statement to segue to his real interest, which is charging businesses for guiding them into “sustainable” paths and “eco-friendly” practices. The PRI and UNEP report quoted next has nothing to do with storm damage. It contains impenetrable eco-babble about “externalities” affecting shareholder returns and is propaganda of the worst kind, inducing guilt without quite understanding why.
It claims the “true” cost to business of the environmental impact of greenhouse gases is 80% of all environment-related costs. Which is nonsense. They got that from the Stern report, which prices “carbon” at $US85 per tonne of CO2. That was a stretch when they wrote it and is now impossible. The PRI report came out in October 2010, just before the Chicago Carbon Exchange closed down in early November because the carbon price had collapsed yet again. Nobody wants to buy the stuff. What a shame.
According to a study released by the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and UNEP Finance Initiative, global environmental damage caused by human activity in 2008 represented a monetary value of $ 6.6 trillion, equivalent to 11% of global GDP. Those global costs are 20% larger than the $ 5.4 trillion decline in the value of pension funds in developed countries caused by the global financial crisis in 2007/8.
As noted in the UNEP Finance Initiative report titled “Putting a Price on Global Environmental Damage,” “environmental harm could affect significantly the value of capital markets and global economic growth.”
The report also estimates that global environmental damage will cost $28 trillion by 2050. The report further indicates that number could be reduced by 23 percent if clean and resource-efficient technologies are introduced.
Those numbers are astronomical because they rely on an extraordinary pricing assigned to the emission of greenhouse gases. They are unbelievable. Though we must look after our environment, it is unreasonable that the cost of doing so should be terrifying.
The financial implications of extreme weather are too great to be ignored, particularly when we factor in loss of productivity and ancillary costs like increased insurance premiums.
Fair enough, nothing to argue with here. The point would be to ensure the information that underpins our planning is reliable and undistorted by intrinsic bias.
Storms, floods, tornadoes and heat waves are the corollaries of global warming and as recent events illustrate, some of these extreme weather events incur staggering costs. We need fiscal responsibility, but surely that includes investments which reduce the crippling costs of climate disasters.
The most that these events have to do with global warming is that they will become milder in response to it. Since we’re not causing warming, no change in investment strategy can possibly reduce the costs of climatic damage.
You’re presenting a dream, Mr Matthews.