Alarmists Offer a Perfect Global Warming Challenge
With an issue as scientifically complex as global warming, nonscientists can often feel they simply don’t know enough about the scientific complexities to make an informed judgment for themselves. The debate over last week’s tragic tornado outbreak, however, has given us an unexpected opportunity to present much of the global warming debate in straightforward terms that non-scientists can understand and judge for themselves. If there is any global warming topic non-scientists should examine as an understandable proxy for the global debate as a whole, the alleged link between global warming and tornadoes is it
On the one hand, global warming alarmists have launched a full court press to exploit last week’s tornado outbreak to sell their message of global warming doom and gloom. With a ferocity not seen since Hurricane Katrina, the alarmists are taking every opportunity to sell the notion that global warming was a significant causal factor behind the unusually strong tornadoes. NBC News anchor Brian Williams couldn’t contain himself trying to get Weather Channel meteorologist Greg Forbes to say people caused the strong tornadoes via global warming.
USA Today published a one-sided article the day after the Tuscaloosa super-tornado titled “Climate change could spawn more tornadoes.” The liberal advocacy group Center for American Progress, in an article titled “Storms kill 250 Americans in states represented by climate pollution deniers,” asserted that all weather events are affected by global warming. This is just a small sampling of the alarmist call to arms in the wake of last week’s tornadoes.
On the other hand, scientists such as climatologist and NASA Science Team leader Dr. Roy Spencer, meteorologist Anthony Watts, and Past President of the American Association of State Climatologists Dr. Patrick Michaels have vigorously explained why global warming will, if anything, reduce the frequency and strength of tornadoes.
Tornadoes are most likely when exceptionally cold, dry air plunges south to violently clash with warm, moist air originating in the Gulf of Mexico. The alarmists claim global warming will cause more and stronger tornadoes because the Gulf of Mexico will become warmer, enhancing the contrast between the two air masses. Skeptics point out that global warming is expected to warm Arctic air masses more than Gulf of Mexico air masses, which will therefore diminish the contrast between the two air masses and reduce the strength and likelihood of tornadoes.
Fortunately, we have enough real-world tornado data to test how well the competing predictions match up with reality. Global warming alarmists claim temperature rise during the past century was unprecedented, with temperatures rising especially rapidly during the latter half of the 20th century. Coincidentally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been accurately tracking the number of strong tornadoes for decades (weaker tornadoes are not accurately tracked, because older technology could not detect many of the smaller tornadoes that can be detected today). If the alarmists are right, NOAA data should show a sharp increase in strong tornadoes during recent decades. If the skeptics are right, tornado activity should show no such increase.
According to objective NOAA data going back to 1950, the three decades with the least number of strong tornadoes were, ascending from the least, the 2000s, the 1980s, and the 1990s. The 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, by contrast, each had more strong tornadoes than any of the three most recent decades. Indeed, the 1950s through the 1970s saw approximately 40 percent more strong tornadoes than the 1980s through the 2000s.
The alarmist argument is essentially this; we have speculated and made predictions that global warming will be bad. We have then written computer programs in which these pessimistic speculations and predictions are core assumptions that govern the outcome of the computer models. When these computer models predictably claim, based on our speculative and pessimistic underlying assumptions embedded in the computer programs, that global warming will be bad, this is undeniable, irrefutable proof that humans are causing a global warming crisis.
The stubbornness and closed-mindedness of the alarmists’ circular logic is so deeply entrenched that even when 60 years of real-world data show strong tornadoes are becoming less rather than more frequent as the planet warms, the alarmists snidely dismiss these facts as “denialism.”
And it’s not just tornadoes. Alarmists claim global warming causes more droughts, yet objective, real-world data show drought frequency and severity is declining. Alarmists claim global warming causes more frequent and severe hurricanes, yet objective, real-world data show recent hurricane activity has fallen to record lows. This is a pattern that is repeated over and over again regarding the various crises allegedly caused by global warming. The alarmists make spectacular claims, supported merely by speculation and subjective predictions, that global warming is causing all sorts of horrible crises, while the objective data show exactly the opposite is happening in the real world.
In the wake of last week’s tragic tornado outbreak, the alarmists are inviting us to focus on the alleged connection between global warming and tornadoes. I agree – let’s indeed pay special attention to the tornado issue. The alarmists’ argument regarding tornadoes is a near perfect proxy for alarmist global warming arguments as a whole. The skeptical counter-arguments are a near perfect proxy for skeptical global arguments as a whole. Do you trust subjective speculation that is strongly and repeatedly contradicted by real-world facts, or do you trust the theory that is strongly and consistently supported by real-world facts? Answer this question regarding tornadoes, and you will similarly have your answer regarding the overall global warming debate.
James M. Taylor is senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.