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Beware of Frankenscience

Storm a mighty blast of good news for some

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It's been a tough year for global-warming activists. Temperature trends, based on global numbers collected by U.K. officials, show warming stalled for the past 16 years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is in disarray. Disbelief in the alleged "consensus" on the scale of anthropogenic global warming is on the rise. Political interest has been waning, in Canada and especially the United States, where the presidential candidates did not even mention climate change over three debates, to the chagrin of many.

As gloom descended over the warmist camps across the continent, their overheated claims flickering dimly like dying campfires, their cause lost, there suddenly rose in the East a powerful force. Look! What's that on the horizon? A mighty blast of good news! FRANKENSTORM!!!!!!!!!

We are saved! As news broke of a big hurricane coming, the hype machine at Environmental Defence Fund sent out emails to media on Sunday, urging reporters ("Dear journalist ... ") to contact EDF's chief scientist, Steve Hamburg, who would draw the link between carbon emissions and the coming Frankenstorm. The Natural Resources Defence Fund tweeted the blessed arrival of Sandy. Soon the idea was in all the media where such junk science routinely finds a home: The Huffington Post, The Atlantic, blogs at the Washington Post, plus hundreds of websites where man-made climate change is an obsession. At the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert blogged: "Coming as it is just a week before Election Day, Sandy makes the fact that climate change has been entirely ignored during this campaign seem all the more grotesque."

A major effort to turn hurricane Sandy into an election issue is underway. Bill McKibben, author and co-founder of the radical carbon-reduction organization 350.org, was out Monday to describe Sandy as "really something that we haven't seen before." Frankenstorm, he said, "is really the right name for it," as he linked the hurricane to man-made climate change, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and "the most powerful and richest industry on earth." Big oil caused the big storm.

Along with others, Mr. McKibben offered up Sandy as proof of climate catastrophism -- despite lack of any science to support such a claim. Welcome to the world of Frankenscience, where claims are made that have no substance and causal links are stated that are not supported by real scientists -- including scientists who believe that man-made global warming is a problem.

The publisher of the official bibles of climate science, the IPCC, said it has little or no science to back claims that man-made climate change is responsible for current weather events. An IPCC report actually said future climate change might boost some regional tropical storm activity but that the total number of hurricanes would likely "either decrease or remain essentially unchanged."

If the IPCC says man-made climate change would be unlikely to increase hurricanes, how can one hurricane -- no matter how freakish -- serve as a proxy for climate change? Roger Pielke Jr., a professor at the University of Colorado's Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, says such links are impossible to make. In a paper he co-authored in 2010, Prof. Pielke found that, based on the existing climate models, man-made climate signals "are very unlikely to emerge in U.S. tropical cyclone losses at time scales of less than a century." The overall time scale for such evidence is likely somewhere between 120 and 550 years.

So far, however, there is no sign of climate-driven hurricane activity. Prof. Pielke said there are no signs of a trend in hurricane activity. "We've done long-term trends with respect to hurricane damage in the United States, and it's very safe to say that regardless of how (Sandy) plays out, there's a century-long time series with no trend in it -- and that's in damage, the number of landfalls, or the intensity of storms at landfall. So, if you are looking for signals of long-term climate change, focusing in on any one storm is the wrong way to go about it to begin with."

Most scientists, even proponents of anthromorphic climate change as a danger to mankind, shy away from any direct claims. Kevin Trenberth, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has in the past limited his warnings to future events. "The global-warming influence provides a new background level that increases the risk of future enhancements in hurricane activity." In a Web posting Monday, he was just as tentative as he joined other scientists with a qualified statement based on the possibility that currently slightly higher ocean temperatures could be creating "perhaps optimal conditions" for a huge intense storm.

Even if Sandy turns out to be a record breaker, however, it appears to add nothing to support or take away from the grand theories of man-made climate change. Prof. Pielke says, "Trying to wage the climate battle, day by day, weather event by weather, leads you down a pretty slippery slope of bad science." It's a slope many are more than willing go down, and now they have the winds of Sandy at their backs.

-- National Post

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 3, 2012 J16

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