Climate Link Makes Landfall Ahead of Irene

Posted by: Keith Kloor  :  Category: climate change, climate politics, Hurricane Irene

The climate science community must have let out a collective groan after reading this opening line from Bill McKibben’s Daily Beast column:

Irene’s got a middle name, and it’s Global Warming.

If that sounds familiar, then you’ll remember this from Ross Gelbspan six years ago:

The hurricane that struck Louisiana and Mississippi on Monday was nicknamed Katrina by the National Weather Service. Its real name is global warming.

Boys, there is such a thing as rhetorical overkill. It has a way of undermining the legitimacy of your cause.  Just saying…

UPDATE: Over at Scientific American, John Horgan has a nice piece that references this post and some of the exchanges in the thread.

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88 Responses to “Climate Link Makes Landfall Ahead of Irene”

  1. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    But Keith there is a very credible case to be made that Irene wouldn’t be able to move so far north in the absence of unusually warmer waters:

    “Normally, says Jeff Masters of Weather Underground, it’s “difficult for a major Category 3 or stronger hurricane crossing north of North Carolina to maintain that intensity, because wind shear rapidly increases and ocean temperatures plunge below the 26°C (79°F) level that can support a hurricane.”  The high-altitude wind shear may help knock the storm down a little this year, but the ocean temperatures won’t. They’re bizarrely high—only last year did we ever record hotter water.
    “Sea surface temperatures 1° to 3°F warmer than average extend along the East Coast from North Carolina to New York. Waters of at least 26°C extend all the way to southern New Jersey, which will make it easier for Irene to maintain its strength much farther to the north than a hurricane usually can,” says Masters. “These warm ocean temperatures will also make Irene a much wetter hurricane than is typical, since much more water vapor can evaporate into the air from record-warm ocean surfaces. The latest precipitation forecast from NOAA’s Hydrological prediction center shows that Irene could dump over eight inches of rain over coastal New England.”

    Can you elaborate on when it’s OK to talk about climate change connections and when it’s not? 

  2. david ropeik Says:

    it is absolutely stunning, yet totally understandable, that advocates, of all sides, can’t see the damage their passion can do when the issue has been fiercely polarized, and being right is so powerfully tied to self-identity that the argument is no longer about the facts, and trying to ‘win’ only makes the polarization worse…which is contrary to the supposed aims of the advocates. Unless, of course, THEIR passion, and being right, is intimately tied to self-identity too.

  3. cagw_skeptic99 Says:

    The warmist press undermines the legitimacy of the cause daily with the drumbeat that attributes unusual or changing weather, animal or plant range movements, etc. to the increase in CO2.
    Most amusing recently is the declaration that falling sea levels were caused by more rain.  The warmists have been preaching accelerating sea level rise for a long time.  I wonder how many consecutive months/years of falling sea levels it takes to cause any of the true believers here to question the faith.  Sea level has increased since satellite measurements began, but the last few years were certainly not following an accelerating pattern.
    Surely Michael Tobis or one of the other true believers who frequent this site can elaborate on how sea level rise theories predicted the current actual fall in sea level.  Most likely there were unpublished model results that predicted this fail, just like the lack of snow in England, more and more intense storms, etc.  No matter what changes in the actual physical world, the beat goes on and the warmists say it was already part of the model.

  4. grypo Says:

    To answer Marlowe’s question:

    Once enough of a signal is teased out of the Atlantic SST and hurricane PDI index, we won’t know for sure what the effect of atmospheric carbon on Atlantic Ocean hurricane activity.  But Kerry Emanuel, who knows more about this than most, says it will take a couple decades — and by that time, it will be bit late for ‘oopsey’.  Unfortunately, mitigation won’t help us over the next few decades if theory holds true statistically.  We can adapt or move over. 

  5. Mike Lemonick Says:

    My own first take on Irene and climate is here. More to come later today 

  6. Keith Kloor Says:


    I remember Gloria well (I was at a Hurricane party). Additionally, as John Fleck points out, there is the relevance of paleoclimate studies. 

  7. Roger Pielke Jr. Says:

    There is no trend in US hurricane landfalling numbers or intensities, nor in normalized damage (the normalized damage trends match up perfectly with trends in storm trends at landfall, as you would expect) from Pielke et al. (2008).
    If storms change as projected by the climate science community (i.e., Bender et al. 2010) then we’ll be able to detect that change in ~60 years in the storm characteristics and ~260 years in damage (Crompton et al. 2011) — in other words not soon.
    It is not surprising that McKibben goes well beyond what the science can support, but interesting to see Lemonick do the same. The peer reviewed literature briefly summarized above remains uncontested (except in a hand-waving sort of way by advocates and journalists who find it inconvenient;-)
    More on Irene:

  8. Mike Lemonick Says:

    The science doesn’t say that sea level has risen? The science doesn’t say that a storm surge of a given amount will be boosted if it starts from a higher sea level? I said nothing about changes in hurricane intensity or strength. 

  9. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    I’m less interested in changes in PDO than I am in how SST changes may in turn be changing storm tracks in such a way that areas that previously didn’t get hit very often will become much more susceptible to future storms.

    Related to above, do you know of any work that tries to estimate future damages on the basis of changes in storm tracks rather than changes in PDI?  


  10. Tom Scharf Says:

    The Al Gore effect.

    He put Katrina on the cover of An Inconvenient Truth, and hurricanes activity dived for 5 straight years.  As RPJ has stated over and over, and the SCIENCE and DATA has shown, trying to pull an AGW signal out of hurricane trending is not valid.  

    The data simply doesn’t support this link.  Sorry science lovers.

    This is a perfect example of where AGW activists take a feel good story of the penalties of global warming and attempt to exploit it.   

    It is a great litmus test for how well a science loving activist really understands the science.  Does he truly believe in the science and follows where the data leads, or is he simply exploiting it as a tool to further a personal agenda only when it is convenient?

  11. 24th Century Time Traveller Says:

    It is imperative that people such as Bill McKibben continue to make such bold assertions, we citizens of the future find them quaint and hilarious.

  12. Jarmo Says:

    Apparently McKibben is trying create momentum for the protest against Keystone XL pipeline.

    Here he draws parallels to Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.

  13. Roger Pielke Jr. Says:

    -8-Mike Lemonick
    1. Yes, sea levels have increased
    2. No, there is no evidence whatsoever that the sea level rise over the past century has led to increasing damage from hurricanes (as you will find explained in the peer reviewed literature).
    I am aware of no such studies

  14. Keith Kloor Says:

    Mike L:

    I look forward to reading your follow-up in Climate Central today.

    Just to note the obvious: it is McKibben’s column (because of who he is and what he represents, and the outlet) that gets all the play. So he gets to set the terms of the debate on Hurricane Irene and global warming, which Climate Depot and WUWT are only too happy to oblige.

    It would be nice if the conversation could start from your subtler, caveated story, but that would mean that people in the climate community would have to challenge a popular, well-liked spokesman of the climate movement. 

    I don’t see that happening. 

  15. BobN Says:

    McKibben’s headline laying the blame on Obama is the most absurd thing I have read in a long time.  Could climate change have impacted the strength and course of Irene?  Possibly, but there is just no good way to tease that out.  However, whether or not  the Obama administration had taken drastic measures regarding McKibben’s climate change agenda over the past 3 years, it would have had absolutely no impact on this storm.  Truly ridiculous.

  16. Keith Kloor Says:


    McKibben is not blaming Irene or climate change on the Obama Administration. His column is an unfortunate mishmash of bullet points that don’t cohere in a unified manner. I suspect it was written hastily, as he is normally a lucid writer, whether you agree with him or not.


  17. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    maybe jail isn’t the quiet place for reflection and contemplation we all thought it was ;-)

  18. Keith Kloor Says:

    He was arrested last Saturday and spent two nights in jail. The experience sounds positively traumatic:

    McKibben was one of the protesters arrested on Saturday. He was released Monday afternoon.

    “It was grim,” McKibben said,  describing the couple of nights he spent in prison. “The block was hot and a little scary with no beds,  just metal slabs,  to sleep on.”

    McKibben shared a cell with Gus Speth, Vermont Law School professor, and environmental writer Chris Shaw.

    On a more serous note, I’d be curious to know if any of passionate climate commenters (on the pro-AGW side) that come around this blog took part in the protests. 

    I’m not impressed with the size of the protest-and where were all the Gristies? No first person, partcipatory account from Chip Giller or Dave Roberts? Seems like it would have made great fodder for a running series of posts all week. If I was an editor at Grist, I would have sent Roberts there for sure, since he writes often and passionately about climate change.

    Oh well, I guess it’s easier to wonk off from a distance.  

    Check back on Monday for a post on the DC climate protests. 

  19. Keith Kloor Says:

    Oh, I forgot mention: McKibben only got one baloney sandwich every 12 hours.

    The good news: no firehoses, no sharing a cell with a 300 pound guy named Bluto, no electric shocks. 

  20. BobN Says:

    Keith - I was specifically referring to this part of the headline

    “Hurricane Irene’s dangerous power can be traced to global warming says Bill McKibben—and Obama is at fault for his failed leadership on the environment. ”

    which could easily be read to imply Obama is at fault for Irene.

  21. Keith Kloor Says:

    I don’t see it, but then again, I seem to see things quite differently than a lot of people that debate this issue.

    Plus, its just a headline, and even if you wanted to make the interpretation you did, it’s not supported by anything in the text. 

  22. Paul Kelly Says:

    Irene has weakened some and is now a cat2, no doubt because of global warming.

  23. Mike Lemonick Says:

    RPJ (13):

    Since hurricane damage is highly dependent on storm track, and since storm tracks are highly inconsistent, I wouldn’t really expect such studies to exist-especially since 100 years ago, or 80, or 60, sea level rise was pretty small. A study presented at an AMS meeting last winter calculated a significant increase in hurricane damage over the next several due to sea level rise alone, so it’s hardly as though I just came up with some crazy notion out of my own head. 

  24. Tom Fuller Says:

    Mr. Lemonick, I’m not sure how closely you’ve followed the ongoing discussions about storm intensity, frequency and damages and any relation to climate change, but Pielke’s eponymous weblog has quite a bit of information that is certainly relevant and might be useful if you haven’t been immersed fully in the topic.

  25. Mike Lemonick Says:

    Tom Fuller (24): Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll take a look. And please, no “Mr.”  it’s Mike.

  26. Tom Fuller Says:

    Sure, Mike-given the combative nature of the comments sections of climate blogs, I’ve gotten pretty conservative about initial contacts. Can’t complain-I’ve been as combative as the rest.

  27. thingsbreak Says:

    Mike L., I don’t see the problem in what you wrote. Roger is admonishing you for writing about oranges when you’ve merely reported the factual existence of apples.

  28. hunter Says:

    The storm is not giong north because of warm water.
    It is losing strength more slowly as the steering currents send it north because of warm waters.
    Since this storm is well within the range of strength for Atlantic coast storms it is misleading, at best, to give this storm any middle name other than ‘average’.

  29. Mike Lemonick Says:

    Here’s the citation on the increased damage projections from sea-level rise:

  30. Marlowe Johnson Says:


    “The storm is not giong north because of warm water.
    It is losing strength more slowly as the steering currents send it north because of warm waters.”

    That’s a distinction without a difference.

    Care to wager on whether or not the damage costs from Irene will be considered ‘average’ relative to other Atlantic storms?

  31. Tom Scharf Says:

    I, for one, do not find that sea level rising at a rate of one inch per decade as very threatening at all.  Am I alone in this?

    The satellite data doesn’t support accelerating sea levels as predicted.

    I think the world has bigger fish to fry.

    AGW activists keep throwing up anything they can think of with respect to attribution to see if it will stick, all the while doing irreparable damage to their credibility.

    Most recently we are once again treated to a study “linking”  civil war to global warming.  Click.  Credibility goes one notch lower.

    Correlation != causation.  

    This stuff is even worse than the period we went through over the past several decades when everything was linked with cancer.

  32. kdk33 Says:

    Actually, Irene is neither the fault of global warming, atmospheric CO2, or the Obama administration.  It was conjured by the Tea Party as a show of force.

    If we care about the planet and future generations, then we must mitigate the weather by reducing government spending and NOT raising taxes; abolish the department of education and the EPA and the other alphabet beaurocrats strangling small business with self serving over regulation.

    Oh wait, which blog is this….

  33. On Warming and U.S. Hurricane Strikes - Says:

    [...] That’s why I agree with Keith Kloor’s conclusion that this kind of rhetoric is “undermining the legitimacy” of the call to reduce emissions of greenhouse [...]

  34. Tom C Says:

    This is very telling.  McKibben lays out a pronouncement that has no scientific backing whatsoever.  Keith Kloor says “sigh, you are not doing your side [read 'my side'] any good”.  No charges of “anti-science”, no insults about ignorance, etc.  Those are reseved for someone who observes the rather obvious fact that many scientists do similar exaggerating/manipulating in order to further their careers/cause.  Just saying…

  35. Jarmo Says:

    Hasn’t there been several hurricanes, equal to Irene, that hit the New York area in the 20th century?  You know, before Obama’s term and AGW?


  36. grypo Says:

    “there is no evidence whatsoever that the sea level rise over the past century has led to increasing damage from hurricanes (as you will find explained in the peer reviewed literature).”

    But we all know it will.  That’s just careful wording, as usual.  We know if we don’t adapt or get out of the way, every bit extra sea level rise will result in larger storm surge and more water reaching further inland.  Also, we must understand that the warmer atmosphere can hold more water, making the situation worse for inland flooding.  

    The best we can do is frame it as risk.  If people don’t want to listen or continuously tell us it hasn’t happened yet (and therefore we shouldn’t discuss it for whatever bizarre reason), there’s not much we can do about it.  When all is said and done, it won’t be difficult to figure out where the communication problem was.

  37. Tom Scharf Says:


    Yes!  And the Tea party will hold the Democrats hostage by threatening to take really deep breaths and expelling huge amounts of CO2 which will cause monster hurricanes to inundate the liberal infested northeast. 

    Do our bidding our we will continue breathing at a catastrophically large rate.  In 1 2 3….Out 1 2 3…


  38. BobN Says:

    Jarmo - The short answer to your question is no.  There have been 3 hurricanes that have passed within 75 miles of NYC since 1900 and only 5 total since 1851.

    Except for the 1938 Long Island Express, none were of similar magnitude to Irene in terms of width or likely rainfall amounts

  39. Roger Pielke Jr. Says:

    Mike Lemonick (#29), the sensitivity study that you cite looks out to 2030, and it hardly relevant to Irene … also, your update contains a mistake, the Hoffman et al. study does not consider changes to population or building practices, so it is a sensitivity study in which they run a future climate over today’s development (obviously probably if society adapts, see Richard Tol’s work on sea level rise for a model that considers adaptation).
    If exposure increases at 5% per year, then the increase in future damage will be about 265% of today’s.

  40. NewYorkJ Says:

    Number of intense (cat. 4 or 5) Atlantic hurricanes:

    1961-1970: 13
    1971-1980:  9
    1981-1990: 11
    1991-2000: 16
    2001-2010: 25

    Most decades prior to the 1960′s have few intense hurricanes recorded (the 1950′s in an exception, having 15), but the observation systems were very inadequate.  Reanalysis of missed storm counts yields mixed results.  All we know with high confidence is that the most intense Atlantic hurricanes in the modern period have occurred over the last decade.  Theory indicates that there will be more intense hurricanes in the Atlantic, and most researchers are converging on that.

    but it’s too soon to make firm conclusions that observations confirm theory or models, as there is plenty of statistical noise in the data and cyclical components.

    Of course, Irene is “only” Category 3, but it’s path is turning out to be highly unusual for a storm that intense.

  41. NewYorkJ Says:

    This paper asks how the frequency of the most intense Atlantic hurricanes will change in in the current century due to human-caused climate change. It suggests that we should expect an increase in the frequency of the strongest hurricanes in the Atlantic, roughly by a factor of two by the end of the century, despite a decrease in overall number of hurricanes, but we should not expect this trend to be clearly detectable until we near the end of the century, given a scenario in which CO2 doubles by 2100.

    Would be interesting to see projections of changes in storm tracks, as that could determine how many might make landfall in particular areas.

  42. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    most studies that I’ve come across suggest a poleward migration of storm tracks (as we’re seeing with Irene).   See here and here for example.

  43. Keith Kloor Says:


    Irene has currently weakened to Cat two and by the time it gets to me in Brooklyn, Sunday morning, probably will be Cat one.

    It is a very wide storm, though, and who knows what shifts it will take in the next 24-48 hours. Major emergency preparations are underway here in NYC and in tri-state area, as there should be.

  44. Tom Scharf Says:

    @40 - Nice cherry picking there.  This was not the prediction by Emmanual, Gore, et al. in 2005 was it?  But let’s just all forget about previous incorrect predictions, they shouldn’t count toward credibility, right?  

    Global cyclone energy is down to historic lows.  Do you find this relevant?

    Disaster losses in Florida were average for the last decade, even after the ever present opportunists declared global warming was the source of all our pain after 4 hurricanes struck FL in 2005.

    Do you have a good explanation for how tiny changes in global temperature only affect cat 4-5 Atlantic hurricanes and seem to diminish all the others?   

    Finding random correlations between AGW and something, which are then shown to be false correlations as new data is examined, and replacing them with yet more spurious correlations is no way to do science.

    Color me unimpressed.


  45. Bob Koss Says:

    I divided my NHC database in half and retrieved all plots of 34 knots or higher that hit or came within 30 N. miles of the US. It appears the first half of the 20th century was more active for the US than the 2nd half. I don’t see any indication of warmer temperature being a factor in recent years. In fact it appears somewhat the opposite.

    1901-1954 storms=98 plots=739 ACE=313
    1955-2008 storms=80 plots=497 ACE=227

    Due to the gridding method employed a few plots from N. Mexico and N. Bahamas may be included in the figures.

  46. Bob Koss Says:

    LOL, You’re moderating me now?

    [No, some comments get randomly caught in the spam filter, or get held up in moderation. Happens to most frequent commenters at one time or another. The reaction from everyone this happens to is similar to yours.//KK]

  47. Keith Kloor Says:

    Nice big picture, contextual post from Andy Revkin at Dot Earth, who writes:

    But the important question for society is how much climate events that matter to people are being meaningfully shaped by that rise in greenhouse gases. In the case of American hurricane risk, the science says there’s a negative trend in storm number, while storm energy and rainfall probably are rising.

    So is Irene’s middle name “global warming”?

    I say its middle name is “stay out of my way.”

  48. NewYorkJ Says:

    Thanks, Marlowe.

    Tom (#44),

    Gore’s no climate scientist, but his discussion of the topic is considerably more accurate and measured, compared ot the usual ”skeptic” spew.

    Gore: a growing number of new scientific studies are confirming that warmer water in the top layer of the ocean can drive more convection energy to fuel more powerful hurricanes.” He added, “There is less agreement among scientists about the relationship between the total number of hurricanes each year and global warming — because a multi-decade natural pattern has a powerful influence on hurricane frequency.

    You also might find the FAQ section in the link in #41 useful for your other concerns.

  49. Tom Scharf Says:

    I had Hurricane Erin go right over my head about 15 years ago when I lived on the east coast of FL.  It was “only” a cat 1 at the time.

    It peaked at 2 am and was a bit unnerving to say the least as it was my first hurricane experience.   The power went out at 4 am and was out for the next 4 days.  That wasn’t much fun as the humidity and heat were dreadful.  Electric well pump…no water.

    Depending on where you live, and which power poles are out, you may be the last to be hooked back up.  The power company generally reconnects the largest groups in descending order, and we were just unlucky.

    Wind damage @80 mph was minimal (FL building codes), but the following day we got hit with an unbelievable 6 hour thunderstorm that just went on and on and on…constant lightning and thunder.  9 inches or rain in less than 12 hours.  Major local flooding. 

    Good luck out there. 

  50. Tom Scharf Says:

    @47 “the science says there’s a negative trend in storm number, while storm energy and rainfall probably are rising”

    This is correct, but only in the Atlantic basin.  But there is this strange leap of faith that this ALSO means the changes are caused by AGW is where you lose me.  This seems almost an article of faith among the advocates. 

    The trend exists…therefore…AGW, and only AGW, caused it.  Tunnel vision.  No further investigation or questioning necessary.  It is weak science.

    Why aren’t all hurricanes affected by AGW, and now only strong hurricanes?  Why is the global cyclone energy at historic low even while CO2 continues unabated?  These are legitimate unanswered questions.  I can answer them with my “pet theory” - CO2 has minimal, if any, affect on hurricane formation, strength, damage, and tracks.

    You can monitor any 20 or 30 year period over centuries in something like hurricane power and find some form of spurious trends, and that is exactly what they are, spurious.  If would be extremely unusual to find anything else.

  51. Gaythia Says:

    I was just in Pittsburgh during its recent flash flood event.  The flooding that led to the deaths happened not so much the surface flooding but because of upwelling from storm sewers at overloaded nodes.  It probably was helpful that our unfamiliarity with the local topography enabled us to see a area of deep water ahead and avoid it.  Those who drove on straight into 5″ of water may have been familiar with the location (in our case half way up the hillside) and “reasonably” not anticipated that this flooding was possible.  Be careful out there.

    Just one example of how it is building patterns that dictate the level of damage.

  52. thingsbreak Says:

    Irene may already dropping to strong a Cat 1, thanks to wind shear*.
    We may be getting “lucky”.
    *Of course, increased wind shear is expected in an anthropogenically-warmed world (thanks to weakening of the Walker Circulation). Hence the intriguing tension in the “proto-consensus” of stronger, but less frequent Atlantic TCs.

  53. steven mosher Says:

    Yes, Irene’s middle name is global warming. without a doubt. Most certainly. She’s a poster child for AGW
    Does that mean that if the storm turns out to be a dud that global warming is a dud? That’s a risky bet to lay on a hurricane.  Im glad responsible folks like mcKibben get to make those unilateral choices.
    Picking Irene as a ‘spokesmodel” for AGW is like  Florida Citrus growers picking anita bryant.
    Can people stop the iconography in science.

  54. Tom Fuller Says:

    Steven, you should give that word an Internetty flavor:


  55. Marlowe Johnson Says:

    While there is much to agree with in Andy’s post I would argue that he (and many ohters) are missing the big picture on the issue of hurricanes :)

    Whether or not climate change increases the power and/or frequency of hurricanes in the Atlantic basin is a good question, but it is ultimately secondary to the question of how climate change will affect where hurricanes go. As this current episode shows its the storm track that matters more than the intensity.  

    Roger and others can argue till the cows come home about statistical significance in the damage record and changes in landfall and PDI statistics, but IMO these sorts of aggregation exercises aren’t really relevant from a policy point of view…

  56. Tom Gray Says:

    According to reports, Irene’s eye has disintegrated and further strengthening is unlikley. The current forecasts that I have seen predict it hitting land as a Category  1 and hitting New Tork as a tropical storm. Better nes, I suppose

  57. Bob Koss Says:

    #55 Marlowe Johnson,
    Look at my comment #45. The earlier part of the 20th century was more active with respect to land falling storms than the last half. If any case can be made at all, it would be that warmer means less land falling storms. But, go ahead and worry if you want.  

  58. steven mosher Says:

    Yup, she’s a poster child for AGW: I suppose if it is a dud and the middle name sticks that McKibben will take full responsibility for the loss of credibility.e has effectively tied the credibility of climate science to the outcome of this storm. A fascinating gamble. Why do those of us who believe in AGW let spokespeople get away with these all in bets..
    Interesting to examine people’s reasoning.Knowing that this is audience you have to convince, did he make a wise bet with our brand equity?
    “It definitely is a concern, but sometimes things are blown out of proportion. Sometimes the people who make the calls just want to save their asses,” said Luzuriaga, who is still debating whether to leave his nearby home.
    Jeffrey Rose, a clinical hypnotist strolling the beach dipping onion rings into guacamole, said he was considering leaving the city on a business trip but was not overly concerned about Irene, which is set to barrel down by Sunday.
    “We’re a very litigious society. The city knows that if something happens, they could get sued. That’s okay; it’s just that people have to cover themselves,” Rose said.
    C.J. Carey, a Rockaway Beach resident who was out swimming, said he may head north Saturday, away from the shore, to the Bronx. But on Friday, he was enjoying the literal calm before the storm.
    “There may be a hurricane, but today is great for the waves,” Carey said.

  59. Jarmo Says:


     Check back on Monday for a post on the DC climate protests.

    Keith,  aren’t these more accurately Keystone XL protests?

    McKibben & Co are trying to stop or delay new supply of oil in Canada from being developed in our Peak Oil world. As long as oil demand in the US continues at the present level, this makes no difference. Somebody else will buy that oil and the US will buy their oil from somewhere else (with a higher price?).

    Would be interesting to look at the demand side of the equation more closely. To draw a parallel to US war on drugs, economists explained the failure of US to limit supply of cocaine and marijuana in the following manner: Limited supply raises street prices and increases drug sellers´profits. Increased profits encourage producers to produce more despite higher cost/risk.

    You have the same problem with oil. Oil sands, deep sea drilling, arctic drilling and shale oil are developed in response to higher oil prices.

    I think Obama took a big step in the right direction with new CAFE standards. Fuel economy of cars will double by 2025. Assuming people will not drive more, this translates to cutting consumption by nearly half, close to 4 million barrels a day. Alberta oil sands currently produce 1.5 million barrels a day. 

  60. Tom Gray Says:

    People have written here about the dangers of AGW advocates have taken n by attributing Irene’s effects to AGW. They are forgetting that these prophecies of doom are not predictions but statements of belief. If the predicted disaster happens then they were correct. Ff it does not happen then we are all fortunate to have escaped the effects of AGW by only good uck. Teh predctiosn cannot be falsified since they are not predictions but statements of group solidarity. AGW is an overwhelming threat and you and your family can only survive if you adhere to the valid set of beliefs. People who do not believe in them are deniers and are a danger to you and your family. Remember Irene.

    So if disaster happens then it as the result of AGW. If it doesn;t happne then tje worst effects of AGW have been avoided by chance.

    Of course, one could easily take rhetoric from the skeptic side abotu Irene and fit it to this as well. Any disaster will have occurred just by the effects of a random hurricane. Lack of a disaster wlll further discredit the AGW hypothesis.

  61. Mike Lemonick Says:

    I’m still trying to figure out how RPJ comes up with the following equation:

    Storm surge is x
    Storm surge plus sea-level rise is x+1
    x=x+1 in terms of likely damage 
    I would think you’d need a peer-reviewed paper to show that this equation is plausible, not the other way around

  62. Jarmo Says:

    Looks like Irene is weakening and Obama has approved Keystone XL. No big surprises.

  63. Michael Tobis Says:

    Because my beloved is named Irene I’ve coincidentally been following this storm from its inception. She’s done well for herself as a storm. I’d have to say, though, that the overwrought American response has been far more symptomatic of the dysfunctional nature of American society and particularly its public discourse than of climate change.

    (That said, I think the evacuation of parts of New York City is a difficult call and on balance, I think it is prudent though my guess is that it will fall under the rubric of false positives.)

    I hate to say it but I am with Kloor and Mosher and Pielke on this one. Lemonick is pushing the bounds, and McKibben is being ridiculous.

    Bill McKibben’s heart is in the right place but I don’t accept him as the leader of resistance to anthropogenic forcing of climate change. This particular blurt isn’t his only error or his main one. His main error is his incapacity to provide an optimistic vision of the future.

    PS I’m not taking the bait on #3. I leave it to the reader to discern why the question itself is misleading and tendentious.

  64. Keith Kloor Says:

    Politico has a related story.

  65. Keith Kloor Says:

    I’ve just become aware that science writer John Horgan has written a piece that references exchanges in this thread.

  66. Keith Kloor Says:

    Whoops, here’s the SciAm post by Horgan.

  67. Fred Says:

    During the 20th century New York was hit with FIVE category 3 hurricanes, all at times when CO2 was below 350 ppm. See:

    So now that New York gets hit with a category 1 storm its all due to “global warming?” 

  68. Mike Lemonick Says:

    Fred (67): No, it isn’t, and I doubt you’ll find many people who say otherwise.

  69. Barry Woods Says:


     Bill McKibben was saying just that… quite loudly

  70. Menth Says:

    @68 This whole thread is in reference to a column by Bill McKibben where he says that Irene’s “middle name” is global warming.

  71. steven mosher Says:

    “They are forgetting that these prophecies of doom are not predictions but statements of belief. If the predicted disaster happens then they were correct. Ff it does not happen then we are all fortunate to have escaped the effects of AGW by only good uck. Teh predctiosn cannot be falsified since they are not predictions but statements of group solidarity.”
    Repent or be damned to hell. Its a statement of belief, not a prediction. If you go to hell, they will be correct. Its a statement of group solidarity.

  72. steven mosher Says:

    Nice Mention for you Keith!

  73. Michael Tobis Says:

    Re #67, Irene is a category 3 on the scale you are referring to, which shows the highest SS scale for the individual storm, not its strength upon hitting “New York”, presumably mostly Long Island.

    We still may have actual sustained hurricane force winds hitting New York City itself this weekend. Is there a precedent for that?


  74. Tom Gray Says:

    In answer to Michael Tobis’ question. Here is the Wikipedis list of New York City hurricanes

    The 1904 hurricane looks remarkably like Irene to my untrained eye

  75. Tom Gray Says:

    And here are the NYC hurricanes from the municipal government. Irene does not seem to be extraoridinary let alone historic

  76. Michael Tobis Says:

    Tom Gray’s first link refers to New York State. His second refers to only one case where a hurricane was believed to hit within “modern New York City” directly, in 1821.

    NYC is geographically speaking a hard target for a hurricane, though, and from my reading of just now, Irene will likely hit NYC directly but not as a hurricane. 

    As of now, I think the answer remains no, that there is no evidence that the city itself has been struck with a hurricane since at least 1821.

    I do NOT think Irene (the storm) is extraordinary as a meteorological event. She just has good aim.

    While I agree with Joe Romm in general that the news media often are negligent about bringing climate change into stories, I don’t think this one in particular should be cast as a climate change story, as I said above.

  77. Tom C Says:

    This is just fascinating.  Tobis says that McKibben’s “heart is in the right place” whatever the hell that is supposed to mean in regard to making statements with or without scientific backing.  Kloor is busy sighing and groaning and wishing he wouldn’t say things exactly in this way.  I want an answer: is McKibben being “anti-science”?

  78. Tom Fuller Says:

    Tom C, the answer is yes. Every time McKibben makes a public utterance, an angel smiles-at the Republicans.

  79. grypo Says:

    To all who think this hurricane isn’t a big deal because it isn’t Cat 3:  You are wrong and you must not be watching the same reports that I am. This storm is very large and if you in the path, please pay attention to the local reports.  Here is what you need to worry about.  Are you near the coast?  Is it high tide when the center comes over you?  Are you in the path of the wind wall or the rain wall?  Is your area adapted to 10+ feet surges.  How long will this last?  I’ll repeat, Irene is large and will take a while to leave.  If your soil is already saturated from earlier east coast rain, expect trees and poles to fall easier, especially with the constant wind.  There’s also a moon tide, higher than usual.  There’s a convergence of things going on that aren’t good.  Prepare.  If nothing else, piece of mind is comforting.

  80. mt Says:

    +1 grypo
    Meanwhile, those of us not on the east coast can jabber about other things.
    Contrary to Tom Fuller in #78, being politically inept is not the same as being anti-science. Rick Perry is politically adept and anti-science, for instance. McKibben is wrong about this hurricane in my opinion, but that isn’t “anti-science” in any sense that I understand it. 

  81. steven mosher Says:

    I think its a mistake to focus on the unprecedented. Essentially its abduction ( CS Pierce). I think it’s unwise for several reasons
    1. We know the physics of climate better than we know the past.
    2. Intelligent Design uses abduction which makes me highly suspicious of its reliablity.
    3.  Nobody who believes in AGW science ( the last hundred years of it) was convinced of the power of GHGs by what was happening with the weather. It’s the physics, stupid. we believe because of the physics.
    Of course for those of us who believe, the weather, even crazy weather, always makes “sense”. It has to. That AGW causes the weather we have is trivially true for us. However, its never a good argument to use with someone who doesnt accept the physics. Look at it this way. We were not convinced by ‘the weather’, and nothing that can happen with the weather can make the physics “wrong”. Epistemically for us the weather is a wheel that doesnt turn. So, why do we think it forms the basis of a great argument. It doesnt. The weather didnt convince us and it wont convince the other side.
    And if the other side doesnt understand physics, then they can only believe based on trust. Which entails having trustworhy people speaking for the science. And even there some will never believe.

  82. Tom Gray Says:

    grypo writes

    To all who think this hurricane isn’t a big deal because it isn’t Cat 3:

    being a big deal and being historic are quite different things. The AGW issue is not helped by hype

  83. Michael Tobis Says:

    #81, though cogently argued, goes down in the annals of chutzpahon account of its source.

  84. Michael Tobis Says:

    Oops, numbering glitch. I mean #80, Mosher’s.

  85. Tom C Says:

    @mt - Oh, I see.  McKibbon makes repeated statements, claims, demands, and tries to influence policies that would affect millions of people, all with no scientific basis.  But, he is just politically inept.  No trace there of someone letting his philosophy distort the science.

    Perry, on the other hand, makes the claim that AGW science has become corrupt.    That some scientists are letting their philosophy and political objectives distort the science.  He is backed up on this point by many famous scientists with relevant experience.

    Sorry, but McKibben is anti-science.  Perry is trying to promote scientific integrity.

  86. Fred Says:

    From Mckibbon’s point of view and that of a few here Hurricane Irene can be added to the list of things caused by global warming found at:

  87. steven mosher Says:

    You can steal the argument if you like MT. For me arguments are independent of the source. If you made a good one I’d steal it. Anyway you get my point. You dont believe in climate science because of extreme weather.  So, you must understand that it’s a weak rhetorical approach.

  88. Matt B Says:

    MT (80) - Rick Perry is politically adept and anti-science, for instance. McKibben is wrong about this hurricane in my opinion, but that isn’t “anti-science” in any sense that I understand it. 
    I’ll bite - what exactly does one do or say to qualify as being anti-science?

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