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Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. : ‘What is climate attribution about? Politics first, science second’

The Politics of Our Climate Attribution Obsession

Linking disasters to climate change is typically about more than just interesting science

By Roger Pielke Jr.

After every extreme weather event, politicians, journalists and scientists can be found quickly making claims that the event was caused by, made worse by, linked to, fueled by, or otherwise tied to climate change. This week’s tragic tornado outbreak in Kentucky and surrounding states is no different. Yesterday, President Biden linked the tornadoes to climate change, and called for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the details, even as the big picture was clear: “the fact is that we know everything is more intense when the climate is warming. And obviously it has some impact here.” …

In this post I focus not on the science of climate attribution but on the underlying politics of attribution claims. When attribution claims are made, more is being conveyed than just scientific details about the causes of a particular disaster – a message is being sent that climate change is important and support for climate policies is the goal.

This is the argument advanced in an insightful new article published last week by Myanna Lahsen and Jesse Ribot. …

So if it is so well known that disasters are the result of a complex interplay of social and climate factors, why then is climate typically the main focus of attention after every extreme event?

The answer, according to Lahsen and Ribot, is politics:

The desire to persuade the public of the dangers of climate change via attributions of climate events pressures scientists and the media alike to attribute extreme climate events (and associated crises) to climate change. Dedicated to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct climate skepticism and related misinformation circulating in U.S. media and society, the progressive research and information center Media Matters for America regularly scolds U.S. media outlets for failing to mention that climate change is driving the conditions that create this “new normal” of frequent crises—as, for example, in the form of destructive wildfires (Robbins, 2015).

Indeed, just today Jack Tapper, CNN journalist and the head of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, Deanne Criswell, exactly followed the recommended Media Matters script when discussing the tornado disaster.

TAPPER: And scientists warn that extreme weather events such as this one will only happen more frequently as the climate continues to warm. Is your agency, is FEMA equipped to handle this new normal?

CRISWELL: This is going to be our new normal. And the effects that we’re seeing from climate change are the crisis of our generation.

Far from being a “new normal”, on tornadoes the recent IPCC assessment report is quite clear on the state of detection of trends and attribution:

·         “observational trends in tornadoes, hail, and lightning associated with severe convective storms are not robustly detected”

·         “attribution of certain classes of extreme weather (e.g., tornadoes) is beyond current modelling and theoretical capabilities”

·         “how tornadoes or hail will change is an open question”

Consider also that according to data from the U.S. National Weather Service from 2000 to 2020 only four of the strongest category of tornadoes were observed (which are labelled as F/EF5 tornadoes) In comparison, from 1954 to 1974 36 (!) such powerful tornadoes were observed. Our research on tornado damage in the United States over many decades shows a decline that is suggestive of an actual decline in tornado incidence.

Based on the IPCC assessment of the literature, along with the underlying data and research, the only scientifically valid answer to the question of whether greenhouse gas emissions and associated climate change are leading to more or more intense tornado outbreaks — a “new normal” — is that neither tornadoes nor the most intense tornadoes have increased since at least the 1950s.

So every time you hear or read a claim about this or that disaster being linked to climate change, as interesting as the underlying science may be, what is actually being conveyed is a stealthy promotional message encouraging you to consider climate change to be important and thus to support efforts to decarbonize the economy.



Climate Skeptics turn tables on ‘attribution’ studies – Ask: Is ‘global warming’ causing a decrease in ‘extreme weather’ events?

The IPCC’s attribution methodology is fundamentally flawed & ‘largely meaningless’

Watch: Morano on One America News TV: Linking every weather event to ‘climate change’ is ‘seance science’ – Talks ‘climate lockdowns’, national security, OPEC, Russia & China