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Wealth Produces Resilience to Extreme Events

August 16, 2019

Climate Change Weekly #332

Climate alarmists regularly proclaim extreme weather events are becoming more numerous and severe. Evidence shows these claims are false.

Hard data, collected over decades, shows no increase in the number or severity of hurricanes over the last century.

Droughts in the United States and worldwide have not become more common, more severe, or of greater length during the period of recent warming. In fact, as climate researcher Roger Pielke Jr. recently reported, May 15, 2019 marked “the first time in the record that [more than] 90 percent of the US has experienced conditions of NO drought, … [and] … according to the Drought Monitor, more than 283 million people currently live in regions experiencing no drought. This is the most people in the history of the U.S. to experience no drought conditions at once.”

Although in some areas flooding has become more common in recent decades, in other areas it has declined. Where flooding has become more common, the evidence indicates land alterations people have made, such as channelizing streams and rivers, filling areas with impervious surfaces (such as concrete, buildings, and parking lots), building in wetlands, etc., are responsible for the increased flooding, not modestly warmer temperatures or significantly increased rainfall.

Weather hasn’t become more extreme, but the way it is packaged by activists and the mainstream media has, in order sell the public on government efforts to halt peoples’ use of fossil fuels to fight climate change.

People the world over have always suffered through instances of extreme weather. The question is, can anything be done to reduce the harm from extreme weather and other natural disasters when they occur? To answer that, we should ask whether there are nations where people are better able to cope with extreme events than others. Clearly there are.

It is not uncommon for thousands to tens of thousands of people in modern-day Afghanistan, Indonesia, Nepal, and other developing countries to die when earthquakes strike. By contrast, when earthquakes of similar or even greater magnitudes strike the United States, New Zealand, or Japan, with very rare exceptions they often result in no deaths, or at most dozens to hundreds are killed.

When volcanoes erupt in Alaska, Hawaii, Iceland, or Italy, few if any people die, whereas volcanic eruptions in Columbia, Indonesia, Monserrat, and the Philippines often kill dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people.

When cyclones strike the Indian subcontinent or islands in the Indian Ocean or the Caribbean, it is not uncommon for hundreds to thousands of people to die during the storms or in their aftermath, yet when similarly powerful hurricanes strikes the U.S. mainland or Japan, the death toll is commonly fewer than 10 people and rarely do more than a couple of dozen people die.

When a drought strikes sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, or Asia, hundreds of thousands of people might die from starvation or malnutrition. When droughts strike Europe or the United States, food supplies remain plentiful.

One factor we can rule out in explaining differences in outcomes from natural disasters is climate. There are no significant temperature differences, differences in non-seasonal occurrences or severity of drought, flood, or storm events, or significant geologic differences in the earthquake or volcano zones affecting the disparate regions.

A country’s level of wealth and development is almost entirely responsible for the depth of suffering its people experience during and after natural disasters.

Wealthier countries are simply better able to cope with natural disasters. One critical component of a country’s wealth is access to cheap, reliable energy, and in that regard fossil fuels fit the bill best. As a result, countries with access to fossil fuels suffer less when natural disasters strike than do poorer countries lacking that access.

Fossil fuels, the foundation of modern agriculture, infrastructure, medicine, and transportation, are largely responsible for the declining impact of extreme weather events on people and nations. Fossil fuel use has contributed to a more than doubling of the average human lifespan, a steep decrease in poverty, and the huge increase in global food supplies over the past century.

Climate alarmists’ answer to the problem of extreme weather events is to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, by rapidly ending the use of fossil fuels. Yet, even under their own most optimistic scenarios, rapid decarbonization will have at best a minimal impact on the severity of future extreme weather events, meaning decarbonization won’t materially reduce the destruction and deaths resulting when hurricanes or other natural disasters strike.

Today’s poor deserve the chance to live as people in the developing world do, not as their ancestors have done for millennia, toiling in poverty, just one extreme event away from death. Only increasing wealth and development can deliver them from this fate, and with present knowledge and technologies, only by using abundant fossil fuels can they generate such wealth for the foreseeable future.

The evidence is clear. To significantly decrease the impact of extreme weather events on the most vulnerable populations around the globe, the world’s poor need to use more coal, natural gas, and oil, not less.

  • H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: Financial Post; Climate Etc.; Watts Up With That; Non-Governmental International Panel on Climate Change


IN THIS ISSUE …

Urbanization accounts for half of China’s warmingUN warns against biomass energyHouseholds would pay big for GND, analysis shows


URBANIZATION ACCOUNTS FOR HALF OF CHINA’S WARMING

A study in the forthcoming October 2019 edition of the journal Global and Planetary Change finds previous research has failed to account properly for the impact of urban development on China’s temperature records over the past century. When its effects are properly accounted for, urbanization is responsible for approximately half of China’s 0.8 degree Celsius average surface temperature increase between 1950 and 2010.

Previous attempts to homogenize temperature data in China’s fast-growing, densely populated urban areas, accounting for the heat island effect and other biases introduced to temperature records through urbanization, focused on the wrong metric. In this paper, the researchers examine “the divergence between the minimum (Tmin) [daily low] and maximum (Tmax) [daily high] near-surface temperature records since the 1940s … because urban heat island (UHI) effects stress the warming of nocturnal temperatures more than the diurnal ones.”

They then compared the measured divergence to the projections for the region made by the fifth generation of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) general circulation model developed for the World Climate Research Programme. They found from 1945 through 1954 and from 2005 through 2014, CMIP5 predicted Tmin should have warmed 0.19 ± 0.06 °C more than Tmax across China on average. However, the actual temperature measurements for those time periods show the Tmin warmed 0.83 ± 0.15 °C more than Tmax, with the measured warming being more pronounced during the colder months from November through April than during the warmer ones from May through October.

When compared to China’s urbanization records, the most densely populated regions and those experiencing the fastest growth are also the regions experiencing the largest Tmin-Tmax divergence, indicating urbanization, not properly accounted for in CMIP5 and other climate models, accounts for approximately 50 percent of the recorded warming of China since the 1940s.

SOURCE: Global Warming Policy Forum; Global and Planetary Change (behind paywall)


U.N. WARNS AGAINST BIOMASS ENERGY

A leaked draft of a forthcoming U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns efforts to fight climate change by replacing hydrocarbon-generated transportation fuels with biofuels from plants and trees could increase world hunger, devastate biodiversity, and ultimately exacerbate climate change.

The International Energy Agency has describe biofuels as an “overlooked giant” of renewables, predicting it will outpace solar, wind, and hydropower in the next five years. But a draft IPCC report discussing biofuels says converting wildlands or croplands to biofuel production, commonly done by clearing the land and planting monocultures of particular types of trees or crops easily transformable into ethanol or biodiesel, could deprive countries of valuable agricultural land, leading to food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, regions already particularly vulnerable to malnutrition and hunger.

IPCC’s report also says intensifying biofuel crop production, through the use of high-input fertilizers, pesticides, increased irrigation, and growing monocultures, could diminish the soil’s capacity to store carbon dioxide, undercutting efforts to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

The news for biofuel boosters could be even worse than IPCC has stated, however, as a recent report from the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) finds Europe’s use of biomass to generate electricity, in addition to destroying wildlife habitat, actually releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than burning coal or natural gas for electricity production.

Since the Industrial Revolution, fossil fuels have largely substituted for biomass in developed nations, with coal and, increasingly, natural gas being used to light and heat homes and  replace wood and other biomass for cooking. In addition, fossil fuels have increased agricultural productivity, allowing many areas formerly devoted to crop production, or to pasture livestock, to be reclaimed by forests, which increases carbon dioxide uptake.

The GWPF report finds harvesting, transporting, processing, drying trees, and turning them into wood pellets for stoves and power plants produces a great deal of carbon dioxide in the short term, which is only fully removed if sufficient trees are planted to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (which is often not the case), and even then it is only removed over the course of decades.

GWPF provides an example of the problem: Europe’s Drax coal-fueled power plants converted to burning biomass to generate electricity. To have sufficient fuel to operate profitably, Drax has been forced to import wood pellets primarily from southern forests in the United States. The result has been Drax has released 183.5 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which any newly replanted trees will take decades to reabsorb.

Any way you cut it (pun intended), burning wood and crops for electricity and transportation fuel is bad for ecosystems, people, and wildlife, and does nothing to prevent climate change.

SOURCES: Climate Home News; Global Warming Policy Forum


HOUSEHOLDS WOULD PAY BIG FOR GND, ANALYSIS SHOWS

A new study conducted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and Power the Future looked at a variety of sources of data to estimate how much the energy provisions of the Green New Deal (GND), including ending emissions of carbon dioxide from transportation and commercial and residential buildings in the United States, would cost the average household in five representative states: Alaska, Florida, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania.

The report found during GND’s first year of implementation, households in the five states analyzed would incur at least $70,000 in expenses on average directly due to GND’s energy provisions, more than $45,000 in annual expenses for years two though five of the program, and an additional $37,000 in energy-related costs each year for the remainder of the program’s existence.

Alaskans would suffer the highest average cost increases, estimated at more than $100,000 per household in year one, $73,000 in each of the subsequent four years, and more than $67,000 each year thereafter.

In the other states, just the retrofitting and upgrading of commercial and residential buildings in Pennsylvania would cost $2 trillion. Retrofitting buildings in Florida to reduce carbon dioxide emissions would cost $1.4 trillion, in New Hampshire the program would cost $102.8 billion, and in New Mexico the toll would be $352.8 billion.

The required transition to electric vehicles and building a high-speed rail system would cost households in each of the states at least $20,000 each on average.

“Most provisions of the GND are so broad and open-ended … it is impossible to calculate the whole or maximum cost of the GND,” authors Daniel Turner, executive director of Power the Future, and Kent Lassman, president of CEI, write.

SOURCES: Competitive Enterprise Institute; Fox News
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Climate Change
Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org