Guest Opinion by Kip Hansen
Is it possible for a single newspaper article to be greater-than 100% wrong? I think that it is certainly possible that Henry Fountain, of the New York Times Climate team, has managed the near-impossible with his latest contribution to the NY Times’ Climate section titled: “Climate Change Is Accelerating: ‘Things Are Getting Worse’”. Accompanied by marvelous photographs — mostly stock images from other news agencies with only one being credited to a Times photographer — Mr. Fountain managers to get nearly every “fact” in his article factually wrong, which I consider a major [negative] accomplishment for a long-term science journalist.
The title and lede offered is this:
“Climate Change Is Accelerating: ‘Things Are Getting Worse’”.
“More devastating fires in California. Persistent drought in the Southwest. Record flooding in Europe and Africa. A heat wave, of all things, in Greenland.”
There have been devastating fires, and “more” would be correct, in California. And while weather does play a part in California wildfires, general dryness along with Diablo and Santa Ana winds, wildfire is part and parcel of the climate of California and both CalFire and the California Public Utilities Commission have freely admitted that most of the blame belongs to California’s electrical utilities for lack of maintenance of power transmission lines. [ examples: here , here , here ].
Stephen Pyne, a fire researcher at Arizona State University, is quoted explaining:
“California is built to burn, and it’s built to burn explosively. If people left tomorrow you’d still have fires that are going to blow to the Pacific Ocean. That’s just a reality.”
Climate change is not to blame for California’s wildfires — and there are other factors: besides bad utility powerline management: ”One is forest mismanagement—California simply hasn’t been clearing enough brush, which builds up year after year until it burns spectacularly. In recent decades, cities have been encroaching more onto the wilderness, putting them literally in the line of fire. This is particularly true in corridors where autumn winds accumulate, fanning flames.” [source] . California’s climate is a factor — it is a dry Mediterranean climate and subject to repeated, sometimes prolonged, droughts. California is currently “dry” again, but not in drought:
But the long term drought has been eliminated by adequate rains which have also filled California’s reservoirs. Drought and mega-droughts are the norm for the American Southwest:
As Woodhouse et al. documented in 2009, a 1,200-year perspective shows that streamflow has remain virtually flat, with excursions up and down while Area under Drought has been far worse, and for longer periods, in the past — drought is not a climate change for the American Southwest — it is just the climate.
I had to laugh when I went to fact-check this next line in the lede: “Record flooding in Europe and Africa.” The “flooding in Europe” link goes to this story:
Of course, we are all sorry that Venice is flooding again (and again, and again and again and again….”) but even the sub-headline makes it clear that the flooding is not due to climate, but to “acqua alta — an exceptionally high tide”. As for the claim “highest in 50 years”….well, maybe:
“The water reached 1.87 meters (6.14 feet) above average sea level Tuesday, the second-highest level ever recorded in the city and just 7 centimeters (2½ inches) lower than the historic 1966 flood.” [ source ] And there’s your hint — when a journalists claims something is “worst in 50 years” they are avoiding telling your that it was worse sometime more than 50 years ago — in this case, 1966, before there was much discernible effect of Anthropogenic Global Warming (according to the IPCC). It is always possible that the official 4 to 10 inches of sea level rise since the 1890s, if it had arrived in Venice, might have pushed this year’s tidal flooding over that of 1966…. Jim Steele covered the Venice story for this blog in “Venice and Unenlightened Climate Fear-mongering”.
And flooding in Africa? — Mr. Fountain makes the same sort of sorry error in reporting on the floods in Somalia — an ever-present focus on the present. There are floods in Somalia. It is a mostly dry country, usually suffering from drought. When it rains, it pours. The country is prone to flash floods during the Gu rains (Somalian monsoon).
The UN’s FAO reports: “Somalia experiences two types of flooding: river floods and flash floods. River floods occur along the Juba and Shabelle rivers in Southern Somalia, whereas flash floods are common along the intermittent streams in the northern part of the country. In the recent past, the country has experienced an increasing severity and frequency of floods. The historically most recent severe floods were those of the Deyr in 1961, 1977, 1997, and 2006, and the floods of the Gu in 1981 and 2005. These floods resulted in human casualties and major economic damage.” — with heavy flooding also in 2007, 2013.
As we see in this photo by Action Against Hunger, flooding is in low laying areas — in this area at least, there are no houses sticking up out of the water.
Flooding is nearly normal for Somalia — but so are droughts. “The 2011 drought was particularly bad. “In 2016 and 2017 the “long rains” in areas of East Africa failed and plunged parts of Kenya into a food crisis as cattle starved and crops withered.” [ source ] The Indian Ocean Dipole, a feature of the climate puzzle first identified in 1999, may be responsible for the shifts of rainfall in East Africa and droughts in Australia. Flooding in Somalia is part of its climate — it does not require climate change.
Greenland Heat Wave?
In support of his claim of a Greenland heatwave, Mr. Fountain links to himself — a story from 2 August 2019, “Europe’s Heat Wave, Fueled by Climate Change, Moves to Greenland”. There was a four-day heat wave in Europe at the end of July which contributed to loss of life. Many press outlets went on to tie the heat wave in Europe to reports of “record” surface ice melt in Greenland — none offering any weather data as to any hot days in Greenland. The reports seem to have been “heat wave mania” — each repeating the idea that “The hot air, which was trapped over Europe after traveling from northern Africa, lingered for about four days. It has since moved north over Greenland, causing the surface of the island’s vast ice sheet to melt at near-record levels.”
The last time I looked at a map of Europe, north from France and Belgium took one to the North Sea (between the UK and Scandinavia). Longitude of Belgium is about 4°E, UK is 0°, and Greenland at 42° West.
There is surface ice melt in Greenland every summer, without fail. There was a lot of surface ice melt in Greenland this last summer :
But not the most ever, for sure — we only have records back to 1978, the start of the satellite monitoring era for Greenland surface ice melt — early years in the data set are “spotty” at best.
The heavy red line is Surface Ice Melt Area for 2019. Orange is 2002. The shaded area is the Mean +/- 2SD (since 1978). There is a spike for the first part of August — but see NSIDC attribution below.
To what does the National Snow and Ice Data Center attribute this higher melt season?
“The summer months were only moderately warmer than average relative to 1981 to 2010, roughly 1 to 2 degrees Celsius (2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit) higher along the western coast. This confirms that the main driver of surface melt in 2019 was above average cloud-free days, not warm air temperatures as in the 2012 summer melt. This also explains the exceptional dry and sunny conditions at the south.” … “The key factors for surface mass loss and melting for Greenland in 2019 included: 1) exceptional persistence of anticyclonic conditions (high pressure) during the 2019 summer, promoting dry and sunny weather that enhanced the surface melt thanks to the melt-albedo feedback, and 2) low snowfall in the preceding fall-winter-spring, particularly in the high-melt areas of western Greenland.” [ source — see section “Conditions in context” ]
Oh, and no mention of the “heat wave” traveling “north” from Europe — only the high pressure system which brought clear skies and sunny days (which was also partly responsible for Europe’s 4-day heat wave).
One more line from Mr. Fountain, then I literally give up:
“Climate change and its effects are accelerating, with climate related disasters piling up, season after season.”
Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) maintains the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) created in 1988. Here’s the view od the data for natural disasters usually presented — this one from OurWorldInData:
One can see immediately that as soon as Global Warming got a foothold in the 1970s, disasters really took off! Of did they? I queried Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) on this very point, asking:
“The data shown does not align well with my understanding of Global Natural Disasters, in that it shows a HUGE increase from 1970 to about 1998. My guess would be that 1970 to 1998 represents an increase in REPORTING and not in actual Natural Disasters.
Can you confirm this please — or correct me if I am wrong.”
Dear Mr Hansen,
Thank for your e-mail. You are right, it is an increase in the reporting. I share your e-mail with your director, Prof. D. Guha-Sapir, who may want to add her input.
[source: personal communication — available on request. – kh ]
So, here’s the portion of the chart that is considered to accurately correspond to reality:
You can view this data for yourself on EM-DATs interactive database tool (albeit, not quite so pretty) available here.
It is simply not true that “Things Are Getting Worse” or that “climate related disasters piling up, season after season” — climate related disasters (erroneously considered to be almost everything on the chart) are not increasing — quite to the contrary, they are steadily decreasing.
So, having gotten nearly everything wrong in his title and lede, we might ask what has led him astray?
He is simply touting the IPCC-solution mandate as echoed by the WMO:
““Things are getting worse,” said Petteri Taalas, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization, which on Tuesday issued its annual state of the global climate report, concluding a decade of what it called exceptional global heat. “It’s more urgent than ever to proceed with mitigation.”
But reducing greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change will require drastic measures, Dr. Taalas said. “The only solution is to get rid of fossil fuels in power production, industry and transportation,” he said. [ from the featured NY Times article ]
It is a mystery to me how anyone with any science background at all — above the miserable American high school level — can quote the line “The only solution is to get rid of fossil fuels in power production, industry and transportation” without commenting on how absurd such an idea is in today’s real world. “Getting rid of fossil fuels” would simply bring civilization to a near stand-still — no air transport, no oceanic shipping, no gasoline or diesel automobiles, no tractors (thus almost no food), no wind turbines, no solar panels, and, of course, almost no manufactured goods — none of the 6,000 product types directly manufactured from petroleum (unattributed list).
OK, just one more item: Mr. Fountain goes on to parrot the usual suspects of the Climate Alarm Cabal — particularly the latest single study fantasy on [shudder] Sea Level Rise. First into the breach in defense of scary sea level rise is Nerem et al. (2018) which manages to transmogrify satellite altimetry data from the TOPEX/Poseidon, Jason-1, Jason-2, and Jason-3 missions into a claimed annual SLR of “4.5 millimeters a year”. NOAA apparently failed to get the message:
Trend in Global Ocean Mean Sea Level? 2.9 (+/- 0.4) mm/year which they represent, quite correctly, as a perfectly straight line since 1993. If any readers are in doubt about this data, NOAA STAR NESDIS makes all the data available starting from this page. Note that 2.9 mm/yr is the same figure given in Oct 2015 — so much for acceleration. (The NOAA SLR trend figure does fluctuate between 2.8 and 2.9 mm/yr).
Doubling down on Sea Level Rise, Fountain quotes yet another of the NY Times’ most far-fetched stories “Rising Seas Will Erase More Cities by 2050, New Research Shows”. This article reports the wildly alarming study produced by the climate propaganda group Climate Central that projects the inundation of the entirety of South Viet Nam by 2050 among other unlikely disasters. Note that no cities have yet been “erased” as of today’s date — but we are assured that “more” will be erased by 2050.
Is this study based on new sea level rise data? No, they decided that the world’s databases on elevation of coastal areas is probably wrong by “3.7 m in the US and 2.5 m in Australia”. Note that an error of this magnitude, over 12 feet, would mean, if elevations are recorded as too positive — too high — that almost all of Miami, Florida would be under water today, in the present moment. Since I happen to know that Miami is NOT under water today, the error estimate must be wrong, at least there in southern Florida.
To be perfectly fair, the researchers, Scott A. Kulp & Benjamin H. Strauss, did include two caveats: 1) “Due to the error always present in wide-area elevation datasets, as well as the other limitations described here, this map should be regarded as a screening tool to identify places that may require deeper investigation of risk.” And 2) “Elevation data errors may lead to areas being misclassified as safe or at risk. As is generally best practice, local detail should be verified with a site visit and more precise elevation measurements.”
I suggest that our ever-striving NY Times journalist, Henry Fountain, might have been well-served by applying this little bit of critical thinking, this logic, to his paper’s hometown, NY City — if the NY City elevation data was off by 12 feet, mistakenly recorded as being “3.7 meters too high”, then the West Side Highway and most of Battery Park would be under water as I write — he could have ridden the subway down to the Battery and taken a look for himself. Here’s Climate Central’s Risk Zone Map for NY City with just 10 feet of water (not the full 3.7 meters):
Now, I sailed past lower Manhattan Island just three weeks ago, and I have my personal experience to share: Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty State Park, Battery Park and the West Side Highway, along with Hoboken, Weehawken and Jersey City: I can report all securely high and dry.
I think that something must be wrong with Climate Central’s error estimate of 3.7 meters, there in New York City too. And there is something wrong with uncritically reporting such nonsense.
I have exhausted my available time doing a simple fact-checking just a bit more than the title and lede of of Henry Fountain’s in-support-of-COP25 “mostly wrong” NY Times article. Being mostly wrong does not make it, in the Douglas Adams sense, “mostly harmless”. Spreading such false and misleading information is harmful to human society.
I invite readers to check the rest — against real data, any real original data, even against IPCC data in its latest massive report, it is not hard to do. News outlets are intentionally pumping out climate propaganda, climate porn, to boost the public acceptance of the flood of climate alarm from COP25 — at the NY Times by editorial decree and with the Columbia Journalism Review’s organized massive international effort.
There is real Climate Science News — you can find links to the best of it at Judith Curry’s site, Climate Etc in her Week in Review series.
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Every time a person takes in something that is not true and accepts it, they become effectively stupider. Promulgating false information, intentionally, through failure to thoroughly check its validity or through failure to label something properly as opinion, is a crime against the collective human mind.
My essay above is labeled, from the start, as OPINION. It is my personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the owners and editors of this blog. However, the data presented as factual has been carefully sourced and linked to the original sources — these facts are NOT opinions. There can be differing opinions about the truth value of different facts — climate science is filled with differing data sets that disagree with one another and yet are each offered as fact. I try to use data sets that are considered acceptable to all sides of the Climate Wars.
Readers should feel free to disagree with me — I do not, however, argue in comments here. Address your comment to “Kip…” is speaking specifically to me.
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