Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chicken littles at the Sydney Morning Herald.

We don't normally cover Fairfax press but we thought this exchange of letters to the editor might interest, more so for the one at the end that wasn't published...
From SMH Letters page 7/2
As Mike Carlton (column, 5/2) notes it certainly has been a dramatic year for the weather, but before we loose our heads a quick look at the record books indicates things have been as bad or worse in the past.
At the risk of being labelled a heretic, 1918 for instance saw two cyclones kill over a hundred people in North Queenland, both were more intense than recent cyclone Yasi. There were record floods in eastern Australia, including the Great Rockhampton flood that saw the Fitzroy River rise to its highest level on record. There were notable floods also in New Zealand, Germany, England, and Africa. Meanwhile heat waves swept Australia (Sydney, Victoria, Perth, Brisbane), and Pennsylvania; and droughts occurred in Australia, Norway, India, North America, Brazil and Africa. Blizzards affected the eastern United States with the "coldest weather in history". There were also snowstorms in New Zealand, Argentina and in Europe, and tornados destroyed towns in the USA.
To top it off there was also a World War, an influenza pandemic that killed millions, earthquakes rocked the Western USA, Puerto Rico, left over a 100,000 homeless in Guatemala, and a magnitude 6 earthquake damaged buildings in flood affected Rockhampton. Vesuvius erupted in Italy and Katla in Iceland.
Space limits a wider examination, but I think readers will get the point without needing to mention the extraordinary weather events of 1893, 1927 or 1934 (for 1934 see A bad year for weather below-ed). Sadly for some, with no appreciation of history, the sky is always falling in.

A reply from Margaret Morgan from the SMH letters Page 8/2 (It seems Margaret has a spelling problem)
For truth on climate change, listen to the insurers
Mark Hendrickx (Letters, February 7) attempts to characterise those who accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change and increased extreme weather events as Chicken Littles, ignorant of history.
As a scientist (albeit not a climate scientist), Hendrickx should appreciate that there are statistical outliers in any natural system, and that weather events such as those of 1918 do not contradict the overall increase in global temperatures. Nor do they diminish the reality that there has been a substantial and statistically significant increase in the incidence of catastrophic weather events such as this year's flooding, cyclone Yasi and the 2009 Victorian bushfires.
Recently, Swiss Re, the world's largest reinsurer, issued a fact sheet (readily available online), Climate sceptic arguments and their scientific background, which surveys the evidence and research. It concluded that heatwaves, hurricanes, cyclones and heavy rainstorms - all predicted under current climate models - have indeed become more frequent.
Swiss Re is a corporation concerned only with its economic bottom line. As a reinsurer, it bears the brunt of increased claims, and thus its executives are highly motivated to understand the science and employ the most sophisticated statistical analyses to the data.
Accusing them of being hysterics with ''no appreciation of history'' sounds a little hollow.

The unpublished retort...
Dear Editor,
Margaret Morgan (Letters 8/1) quotes a fact sheet from re-insurer Swiss Re to defend the opinions of chicken littles blaming the current spate of inclement weather on anthropogenic climate change. She states that reinsurers "are highly motivated to understand the science and employ the most sophisticated statistical analyses to the data". Margaret should know that a another large re-insurer, Munich Re, recently funded a study that examined trends in global disaster losses. Published in the journal Global Environmental Change this peer reviewed paper concluded "that, based on historical data, there is no evidence so far that climate change has increased the normalized economic loss from natural disasters." It seems that some reinsurers are more sophisticated than others. With the most tenuous of claims hyped and the peer reviewed literature completely ignored it appears the label "No appreciation of history" has been accurately applied.

The Paper: Eric Neumayer and Fabian Barthel, Normalizing economic loss from natural disasters: A global analysis, Global Environmental Change, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 18 November 2010, ISSN 0959-3780, DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2010.10.004.

See also Roger Pielke Jnr's Posts: 
New Peer-Reviewed Paper on Global Normalized Disaster Losses
"Independently of the method used,we find no significant upward trend in normalized disaster loss.This holds true whether we include all disasters or take out the ones unlikely to be affected by a changing climate. It also holds true if we step away from a global analysis and look at specific regions or step away from pooling all disaster types and look at specific types of disasters instead or combine these two sets of dis-aggregated analysis. Much caution is required in correctly interpreting these findings. What the results tell us is that, based on historical data, there is no evidence so far that climate change has increased the normalized economic loss from natural disasters."
Signals of Anthropogenic Climate Change in Disaster Data
Our 2006 Hohenkammer workshop with Munich Re reached this same conclusion. Our paper makes a pretty convincing and straightforward argument (in my view) and should make it clear why it is just plain wrong to attribute recent disasters (and even recent trends in disasters) to human-caused climate change.
Mixed Messages from Munich Re
Writing last year in the peer reviewed literature, Munich Re successfully replicated work that I have been involved in, reaching exactly the same conclusions that we did about hurricane losses in the Atlantic:

There is no evidence yet of any trend in tropical cyclone losses that can be attributed directly to anthropogenic climate change.
Knowing some of the scientists at Munich Re, and having high respect for their work and integrity, I can only conclude that the marketing department is not talking to the research department. 

Seems the Sydney Morning Herald partakes in misleading its readers as much as the ABC does.


  1. Lateline on Wed.
    ABC Lateline last night
    Margot O'Neil:Big international insurers are mopping up after more than 850 global weather catastrophes in 2010, and they say there's no doubt: global warming is destabilising the climate.

    MATTHEW ENGLAND: And if it wasn't happening, why are the glaciers melting as well? I mean, there's no glacier on the planet, I don't think, that hasn't melted significantly over the last century.
    Reality: 58% of Himalayan glaciers are stable or growing.

    O'Neil: The reliance on modelling attracts criticism, but the scientists point out that models underpin most of today's science and technology.
    ANDY PITMAN: You can't get on an aeroplane if you don't believe in computer modelling. You can't drive a car if you don't believe in computer modelling.

    So the best evidence our best scientists can find to support the reliability and robustness of climate models,
    is that because othercomputer models work, then so do climate models. Sounds more like an admission of failure.

  2. Nice point, Tony. I've asked ABC for the source of its insurance graph. I'd like to see the same numbers run on a per capita basis.
    Roger Pielke Jnr has more on the true numbers for insurance losses for natural disasters- these show no trend- follow the links above.



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