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Twitter Hits No Substitute for Science in Understanding Climate

February 28, 2020

Climate Change Weekly #352

Guest Essayist Anthony Watts

The headline of a recent story on CNBC claimed, “Scientists Are Using Twitter to Measure the Impact of Climate Change.” I did a double-take and checked the calendar to make sure this was not April Fools’ Day, thinking this had to be some sort of a joke.

Sadly, it was not.

Incredibly, scientists are basing claims of a climate crisis on the number of people tweeting about climate events—a very bad sign for science, indeed.

The CNBC story cited a study recently published in Nature Communications, “Using Remarkability to Define Coastal Flooding Thresholds”—‘remarkability’ being a fancy, sciencey-sounding name for Twitter volume. In this study, a pair of scientists from the University of California at Davis and the Max Plank Institute for Human Development in Germany examined Twitter messages to measure how often people complained about flooding nuisances—typically caused by backed-up stormwater drains—along coastal counties, including places such as Boston, Miami, and New York.

“Coastal floods and inundation are projected to produce some of the primary social impacts of climate change, imposing significant costs on communities around the world,” the study claims.

“Flooding due to high tides, storm surges, or a combination of the two is increasingly common in many coastal areas and is projected to become more frequent and severe as sea-levels rise globally.”

However, the study ignored hard, objective data such as rainfall rates, choosing instead to build a scientific case for worsening coastal flooding by noting people are tweeting about it more often. The researchers defined a “remarkable threshold” for coastal flooding when the number of Twitter posts in a particular county complaining about flooding rose by 25 percent. They then compared the Twitter data with official flood records.

The kinds of Tweets that would qualify as scientific evidence of increasing, climate-driven flooding would include, “Hey neighbors! The street is flooded again because the city didn’t clear the storm drain of junk and leaves. Don’t park out front.”

The study reveals trends of social media commentary, but certainly not objective, factual data about climate or unusual instances of flooding related to climate. It also reflects trends of social media volume in general, as well as the influence of climate propaganda coming from media sources. None of these are scientific evidence of climate change or its effects.

Here is another interesting tidbit: For some strange reason, the researchers limited the scope of their study to a relatively short period: March 2014 to November 2016. I’m always suspicious of any scientific study that doesn’t use the entire available dataset. Why not from 2014 to 2018? In many cases, analysts limit their choice of data because when they analyze data for a study and the full dataset does not provide the answer they were hoping to find, they report misleading results from a partial dataset instead.

To their credit, the researchers note Twitter data might be misleading. They mention research has demonstrated the more people experience things, the less remarkable they become. In other words, when storms and floods occur less often, they are more likely to be exciting and deserving of a Twitter post when they finally do occur.

Here is the biggest flaw in the study: nowhere in the study did the authors look at the increase of Twitter users or tweets during the same period. That’s a shocking oversight on their part. According to data for the United States compiled by Statista, Twitter’s audience grew massively from the first quarter of 2014 to the fourth quarter of 2016, from 57 million to 67 million monthly active users. This 17.5 percent increase in the number of Twitter users overlapped the period studied in the previously mentioned, dubious flooding study.

Gosh, do you think there might have been an increase in tweets about street flooding because more people were using Twitter during the months at the end of the study period than were using Twitter at the beginning of the study period?

I weep for science, and I especially weep for climate science.

Guest essayist Anthony Watts (AWatts@heartland.org) is a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute. He is a former broadcast meteorologist and operates the world’s most-viewed climate website, WattsUpWithThat.com.

SOURCES: CNBC; Nature Communications; Statista


IN THIS ISSUE …

China, India dump climate concerns, back coal … Contributions battle puts EU climate plans in jeopardy… Recent warming in southern South America not unusual or historically high


CHINA, INDIA DUMP CLIMATE CONCERNS, BACK COAL

In a post on WattsUpWithThat,com, energy analyst Ronald Stein writes, “China and India view energy as an amoral source of power that is to be used for survival and advancement during this century … [and thus] are NOT buying into the global alarm movement.”

In 2018, China had almost 1.4 billion people, and its population is expected to grow to 1.5 billion by 2045, Stein notes. India’s population was approximately 1.3 billion people in 2018 and is expected to increase to almost 1.7 billion by 2045.

As a consequence, while the two countries are spending billions of dollars on renewable energy, they are both also expanding their use of coal, natural gas, and oil for electric power and transportation.

Two out of every seven people on the planet are Chinese or Indian, and with hundreds of millions of them suffering from energy poverty and living in absolute penury, the two countries are building their future economic well-being on the power sources that brought the developed countries prosperity: coal, natural gas, and oil. Stein notes more than half of the world’s 10,210 coal-fueled power plants, 5,884, are in China and India, who together are in the process of building 634 new large coal power plants and developing and importing more natural gas, along with oil for the increasing number of vehicles they expect to occupy their growing road systems soon.

In addition to the coal plants those two nations are building within their own borders, China is helping to develop and fund dozens if not hundreds of coal-fueled power plants across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East as part of its “Belt and Road” initiative to buy economic and political influence in developing countries around the globe. The leaders of China and India show no evidence they are willing to slow down or curtail the use of fossil fuels for energy out of fear it will contribute to human-caused climate change.

Stein asks readers to keep these facts in mind as some U.S. politicians push policies like the Green New Deal which would virtually end the use of fossil fuels in the United States.

“The U.S. could literally turn off the entire country from any source of energy, and global [carbon dioxide] emissions would still grow, according to U.S. Congressional testimony in 2017. … The reason why is ‘one of the biggest sources of carbon dioxide emissions is developing countries.’ Think China, India, and Africa,” Stein writes.

SOURCES: Watts Up With That


CONTRIBUTIONS BATTLE PUTS EU CLIMATE PLANS IN JEOPARDY

Budget battles have erupted in the European Union (E.U.) in the aftermath of Brexit. Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden are refusing to increase their contributions to fill the gap in the E.U. budget left by Britain’s departure, with much of the disagreement being over demands by some countries to increase the E.U.’s climate commitments. The United Kingdom’s (U.K.) withdrawal from the E.U. left the 27-nation bloc with an estimated €75 billion deficit in finances over the next seven years.

The Daily Mail reports, “Germany wants to spend more on climate change while France is seeking more money for a joint defence, with poorer nations determined to keep their generous E.U. payouts.”

The E.U.’s budget comes from national contributions as well as revenue from customs duties, sales taxes, and fines levied on companies. Some members of the trading bloc have sought new sources of revenue, including a proposed tax on plastic waste and a tax on the profits from carbon dioxide emissions trading, but these proposals lack universal support and have not moved forward.

Currently, E.U. nations have committed 1 percent of their combined GDP from 2021 to 2027 to cover all the trading bloc’s operations and programs, including renewable energy promotion and payments to poor countries to fight climate change. The E.U.’s leadership has called for increasing those commitments to 1.08 percent of the trading bloc’s GDP, and states receiving “cohesion fund” payments—E.U. members whose gross national income (GNI) per capita is less than 90 percent of the E.U. average—want the joint contribution to rise to 1.3 percent.

These plans, however, seem for naught as the so-called “frugal four” nations—Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden—are unwilling to pay more to plug the gap in the E.U.’s budget left by the U.K.’s departure. Unless those four countries budge, E.U. officials have warned, the bloc will have to freeze most of its projects from 2021 onward and/or some of the E.U.’s program commitments will have to be cut in order to fund others fully.

SOURCES: Daily Mail


RECENT WARMING IN SOUTHERN SOUTH AMERICA NOT UNUSUAL OR HISTORICALLY HIGH

A study in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews finds recent warming across southern South America (SSA), covering southern Chile and Argentina, is not unusual historically, with several previous periods since the end of the most recent ice age having been warmer than at present, for extended periods of time.

Using tree ring data, an international team of researchers from universities and research laboratories in Argentina, Canada, and Chile developed the longest detailed reconstruction of maximum summer temperatures for the Southern Hemisphere, with reconstructed temperatures going back 5,680 years, more than twice as long as the previous 2,060-year historical proxy record for the region.

Spanning 3672 BC through 2009 AD. the team’s temperature reconstruction shows two extended warm periods in which temperatures across SSA were significantly warmer than today: 3140–2800 BC and 70 BC–150 AD. The tree ring reconstruction of extended high temperatures is confirmed by evidence glaciers did not advance across the Andes during these periods.

The warmest era of the past millennium in the region was from the 1700s to the 1800s, when the planet as whole was in the midst of an extended cool spell commonly referred to as the Little Ice Age. The researchers found SSA experienced no net warming between 1979 and 2009, over the period the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says global warming has been occurring. The researchers confirmed their findings by comparing them to instrumental data recorded at four long-term temperature stations “selected because they represented the best combination of proximity to the study sites, length, completeness, and reliability of the climate records.”

Rather than atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, the researchers found the evidence indicates solar activity drives temperature changes across the region on multi-century scales and sea surface temperatures influence temperatures across the region both annually and across the course of multiple decades.

“Recent warming is not exceptional in the context of the last five millennia in SSA,” the researchers conclude.

SOURCES: Quaternary Science Review

Author
Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute.
awatts@heartland.org @wattsupwiththat
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