June 6, 2009
Our only question is, if the case for global warming is so open and shut, why the need for a report as disingenuous as Mr. Annan's?
'Worse Than Fiction'
Global warming alarmists are fond of invoking the authority of experts against the skepticism of supposedly amateur detractors -- a.k.a. "deniers." So when one of those experts says that a recent report on the effects of climate change is "worse than fiction, it is a lie," the alarmists should, well, be alarmed.
The latest contretemps pits former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, now president of the Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum, against Roger Pielke, Jr., an expert in disaster trends at the University of Colorado. Mr. Annan's outfit issued a lengthy report late last month warning that climate change-induced disasters, such as droughts and floods, kill 315,000 each year and cost $125 billion, numbers it says will rise to 500,000 dead and $340 billion by 2030. Adding to the gloom, Mr. Annan predicts "mass starvation, mass migration, and mass sickness" unless countries agree to "the most ambitious international agreement ever negotiated" at a meeting this year in Copenhagen.
Even on its own terms, the numbers here are a lot less scary when put into context. Malaria kills an estimated one million people a year, while AIDS claims an estimated two million. As for the economic costs, $125 billion is slightly less than the GDP of New Zealand. Question: Are targeted campaigns using proven methods to spare the world three million AIDS and malaria deaths a year a better use of scarce resources than a multitrillion-dollar attempt to re-engineer the global economy and save, at most, a tenth that number? We'd say yes.
But the Annan report deserves even closer scrutiny as an example of the sleight of hand that so often goes with the politics of global warming. Unlike starvation, climate change does not usually kill anyone directly. Instead, the study's authors assume a four-step chain of causation, beginning with increased emissions, moving to climate-change effects, thence to physical changes like melting glaciers and desertification, and finally arriving at human effects like malnutrition and "risk of instability and armed conflicts."
This is a heroic set of assumptions, even if you agree that emissions are causing adverse changes in climate. Take the supposedly heightened risk of conflict: The authors suggest that "inter-clan fighting in Somalia" is a product of climate change. A likelier explanation is the collapse of a functioning Somali government and the rise of jihadists in the region.
Enter Mr. Pielke, who, we hasten to add, does not speak for us (nor we for him). But given the headlines the Annan report has garnered, his views deserve amplification. Writing in the Prometheus science policy blog, Mr. Pielke calls the report a "methodological embarrassment" and a "poster child for how to lie with statistics" that "does a disservice" to those who take climate change issues seriously.
Mr. Pielke's critique begins by citing a recent peer-reviewed paper by three German researchers that "it is generally difficult to obtain valid quantitative findings about the role of socioeconomics and climate change in loss increases." Reasons for this, the researchers explain, include "the stochastic [random] nature of weather extremes, a shortage of quality data, and the role of various other potential factors that act in parallel and interact."
The report does admit to a "significant margin of error," but this hardly excuses the sloppiness of its methodology. "To get around the fact that there has been no attribution of the relationship of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions and disasters," Mr. Pielke notes, the Annan "report engages in a very strange comparison of earthquake and weather disasters in 1980 and 2005. The first question that comes to mind is, why? They are comparing phenomena with many 'moving parts' over a short time frame, and attributing 100% of the resulting difference to human-caused climate change. This boggles the mind."
It gets worse. The Annan report cites Hurricane Katrina as a case study in the economic consequences of climate change. Yet there's not even remotely conclusive evidence that temperature increases have any effect on the intensity or frequency of hurricanes. The authors also claim that global warming is aggravating the El Niño effect, which has "ruined livelihoods, led to lost lives and impaired national economies." Yet new research "questions the notion that El Niños have been getting stronger because of global warming," according to Ben Giese of Texas A&M.
We could go on, except we're worried about the blood pressure of readers who are climate-change true believers. Our only question is, if the case for global warming is so open and shut, why the need for a report as disingenuous as Mr. Annan's?