Don Boudreaux masterfully continues the Julian Simon tradition in his WSJ article “More Weather Deaths? Wanna Bet?”, according to Mark Perry in his blog Carpe Diem:

Writing recently in the Washington Post, environmental guru Bill McKibben asserted that the number and severity of recent weather events, such as the tornado in Joplin,Mo., are too great not to be the result of fossil-fuel induced climate change. He suggested that governments’ failure to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases will result in more violent weather and weather-related deaths in the future. And pointing to the tragedy in Joplin, Mr McKibben summarily dismissed the idea that, if climate change really is occurring, human beings can successfully adapt to it.

“There’s one problem with this global-warming chicken little-ism”, Perry writes.  “It has little to do with reality. National Weather Service data on weather-related fatalities since 1940 show that the risks of Americans being killed by violent weather have fallen significantly over the past 70 years.”

Perry notes that:

The annual number of deaths caused by tornadoes, floods and hurricanes, naturally, varies. For example, the number of persons killed by these weather events in 1972 was 703 while the number killed in 1988 was 72. But amid this variance is a clear trend: the number of weather-related fatalities, especially since 1980, has dropped dramatically.

For the 30-year span of 1980-2009, the average annual number of Americans killed by tornadoes, floods and hurricanes was 194 – fully one-third fewer deaths each year than during the 1940-1979 period. The average annual number of deaths for the years 1980-2009 falls even further, to 160 from 194, if we exclude the deaths attributed to Hurricane Katrina, most of which were caused by a levee that breached on the day after the storm struck land

This decline in the absolute number of deaths caused by tornadoes, floods and hurricanes is even more impressive considering that the population of the United States more than doubled over these years – to 308 million in 2010 from 132 million in 1940.


 This is Don Boudreaux’s bet:

“So confident am I that the number of deaths from violent storms will continue to decline that I challenge Mr. McKibben – or Al Gore, Paul Krugman, or any other climate-change doomsayer – to put his wealth where his words are. I’ll bet $10,000 that the average annual number of Americans killed by tornadoes, floods and hurricanes will fall over the next 20 years. Specifically, I’ll bet that the average annual number of Americans killed by these violent weather events from 2011 through 2030 will be lower than it was from 1991 through 2010.

“If environmentalists really are convinced that climate change inevitably makes life on Earth more lethal, this bet for them is a no-brainer. They can position themselves to earn a cool 10 grand while demonstrating to a still-skeptical American public the seriousness of their convictions. But if no one accepts my bet, what would that fact say about how seriously Americans should treat climate-change doomsaying? Do I have any takers?”



The ‘Climategate’ Scandal Should Not Be A Surprise

An article I wrote for the Otago Daily Times published today:

Terence Kealey, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham in Britain, is an interesting and iconoclastic scholar.

A scientist (biochemist) himself, his book The Economic Laws of Scientific Research challenges the idea that science is a public good requiring government subsidies.

Last month I heard Professor Kealey speak at an academic conference in Australia.  His topic was the ‘Climategate’ scandal at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia.  Subsequently, other global warming claims have been shown to be flawed, such as the disappearance of glaciers in the Himalayas predicted in the last IPCC report.

Kealey’s basic point was: Why should we be surprised about all this?  The assumption that scientists are always dispassionate seekers after truth is naïve, he argued.

Kealey reminded those who claim a scientific consensus about human-induced global warming of a similar consensus about eugenics – the science of controlled breeding – in the first half of the twentieth century.

We think of eugenics today as one of modern science’s most horrible perversions and associate it with Hitler and Nazism.  But eugenics ideas were once persuasive, as Kealey showed with quotes from well-known authors:

H G Wells (1901): “The swarms of black and brown and dirty-white and yellow people have to go.  It is their portion to die out and disappear.”
D H Lawrence (1921): “Three cheers for the inventors of poison gas.”

And the appalling George Bernard Shaw (1933): “Extermination must be put on a scientific basis if it is ever to be carried out humanely and thoroughly … if we desire a certain type of civilization and culture, we must exterminate the sort of people who do not fit into it.”

Such ‘scientific’ beliefs are dead today, but as Max Planck put it, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

Kealey illustrated the lengths to which some scientists will go in order to silence ‘sceptics’ by a historical event involving Pythagoras (of the Theorem).
Pythagoras was a good scientist and he revered ‘rational’ numbers (whole numbers or whole fractions).  He believed that whole numbers underpinned the universe, from music to the movement of the planets.

But Pythagoras had a student called Hippasus who discovered that the square root of 2 is not a ‘rational’ number.  It is in fact an ‘irrational’ number and Hippasus showed that irrational numbers can never be definitively calculated.  This proof upset Pythagoras and he asked Hippasus to retract it.  But Hippasus refused, so Pythagoras had him drowned.

Kealey wryly commented, “I think Pythagoras went too far; I think that scientists should desist from killing each other or even from telling outright falsehoods.  But, like advocates in court, scientists can nonetheless be counted on to put forward only one very partial case … and no one should expect a scientist to be anything other than a biased advocate.”

Such partiality has long been a feature of the global warming debate.  One early proponent, the late Stephen Schneider, is notorious for saying, “To capture the public imagination, we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have.  Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective and being honest.”

Former US Vice-President Al Gore made that approach into an art form.  His film An Inconvenient Truth was found by a British court to contain nine significant errors in a context of “alarmism and exaggeration”.

In a leaked email, Climate Research Unit director Professor Phil Jones, referring to two papers that apparently falsified his work, wrote:  “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report.  [New Zealand-born scientist] Kevin Trenberth and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-group literature is!”

Here at home serious questions have been raised about the reliability of NIWA’s posted domestic temperature record – leading NIWA’s board to acknowledge the need to clarify the matter and publish the results.    

The integrity of climate science has taken a hit with Climategate and its sequels.  Scientific academies have been insisting on greater honesty and transparency.

Of course many reputable scientists continue to see a material risk of dangerous manmade warming.  I believe their case needs to be taken seriously – most scientists are honest.  But those in that camp should be the first to denounce exaggerated and erroneous claims by scientists that undermine confidence in their concerns.

On global warming it is nonsense to claim that “the science is settled”.  Scepticism about science is always in order – indeed it is the essence of scientific inquiry.

Friday graph: belief in human induced global warming wanes

An interesting graph from the Pew Research Centre (hat tip: Anthony Watts) showing an ongoing decline in the number of Americans believing human activity is the cause of global warming.

Only around a third (34%) say that global warming is now occurring mostly because of human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels.

This finding has no bearing at all on the validity of the scientific evidence on global warming.  Only qualified scientists can debate that evidence.

But the trend may have been influenced by the Climategate scandal and the misuse of evidence by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  Confidence in the IPCC has been shaken.

Much more importantly, it brings out the political dimension of the global warming issue.  Policy on global warming is not just a matter of science; it is also an economic and political issue.

Governments are not going to be in a position to implement durable emission reductions policies unless voters are persuaded that they should bear the associated costs.  If they’re not, governments will simply be voted out of office and policies will change.

The Pew Research Centre survey may help explain why the United States seems unlikely to implement a cap-and-trade (emissions trading) scheme any time soon.

This blog by Donna Laframboise on media bias on climate change is also interesting.

Click to enlarge


The BBC, long accused of bias in its reporting of the climate change debate, has now been ordered to deliver balanced coverage on the issue:

The BBC has been repeatedly accused of bias in its reporting of climate change issues.

Last year one of its reporters, Paul Hudson, was criticised for not reporting on some of the highly controversial “Climategate” leaked emails from the University of East Anglia, even though he had been in possession of them for some time.

Climate change sceptics have also accused the BBC of not properly reporting “Glaciergate”, when a study from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) saying that glaciers would melt by 2035 was discredited.

But the BBC’s new editorial guidelines, published yesterday after an extensive consultation that considered over 1,600 submissions by members of the public, say expressly for the first time that scientific issues fall within the corporation’s obligation to be impartial.

The mainstream media in New Zealand should take note. We have moved ahead of our trading partners, and the vast majority of the rest of the world, by embarking on an expensive Emissions Trading Scheme. Now the BBC is saying the science isn’t settled.

‘Climategate’ and ‘Glaciergate’ were not exactly widely reported in New Zealand either. Regardless of individuals’ opinions on climate change, there is a debate raging out there and the public deserves balanced coverage.

 Read the full article here.

The increasingly lonely business of leading the world

Watching last night’s Back Benches special on our ETS, I was somewhat bemused to see a British diplomat (chapter 3 online) effusing over New Zealand’s ETS bravery, rather patronisingly assuring us that we are not alone, and challenging New Zealanders to look a Pakistani flood victim in the eye and tell him we’re not willing to raise petrol prices by a couple of cents to save him. If only it was that simple.

 I won’t go into whether it’s appropriate for a British diplomat to be commenting on New Zealand politics on a pub politics TV show.  But it’s timely to reflect on the ETS, now that the next stage has been in place for a couple of months and the costs are beginning to bite.  The decision to proceed when our major trading partners such as Australia and the US still have nothing comparable in place, remains, in my view, a dubious one, as I noted in this article published in The Spectator last March. While the government was wise to ensure the scheme was a relatively low impact one, it has nevertheless pushed up power and fuel costs for consumers, who will also be bracing themselves for the impact of the upcoming GST increase.

 Post election, the Australian position is more uncertain than ever. Both parties appeared to foreshadow little action in this area in this next parliamentary term, although the influence of the Greens may come into play. The major international milestones coming up are the UN meetings in Mexico at the end of this year and South Africa at the end of 2011.  It’s highly unlikely that the Mexico meeting will see important agreements on major issues.  If the same happens at the 2011 meeting in South Africa, there’s a real possibility that there will be no second Kyoto commitment period.  In that event New Zealand politicians will surely think twice about proceeding with further costly stages of their pledge to fight global warming.