El Reno, OK EF5 multi-vortex tornado, May 31, 2013. At 2.6 miles wide, the widest ever recorded in the United States.
- “No evidence global warming spawned twister” — CNN’s Elizabeth Landau
- “No links to tornadoes” — Dr. Marshall Shepherd, American Meteorological Society president
- “Yet a link between climate change and tornado activity has not been established.” — New York Times’ John Schwartz
These claims range from misleading to false.
The link between climate change and tornado activity is atmospheric physics. Tornadic activity is governed by atmospheric and topographical conditions, such as vertical wind shear, humidity, temperature gradients, and geographic contours. The atmospheric conditions are determined by climatic forcings, including greenhouse gas concentrations. Scientists have not established how global warming changes tornado activity, but it is simply incorrect to state that there is no link between climate change and tornadoes. To make that claim requires the assumption that the laws of physics do not apply to tornadoes.There is strong science about climate change and large storms. In particular, there is both theoretical and observational evidence that intense precipitation events are increasing. For example:
- Trends in Intense Precipitation in the Climate Record (Groisman et al., 2005)
- Human contribution to more-intense precipitation extremes (Min et al., 2011)
- Climate Extremes: Observations, Modeling, and Impacts (Easterling et al., 2000)
- Atmospheric Warming and the Amplification of Precipitation Extremes (Allen & Snowden, 2008)
- Heavy precipitation processes in a warmer climate (Frei et al., 1998)
- Global surface temperatures and the atmospheric electrical circuit (Price, 1993)
- Possible implications of global climate change on global lightning distributions and frequencies (Price & Rind, 1994)
- Lightning activity as an indicator of climate change (Reeve & Toumi, 1999)
- Thunderstorms, Lightning and Climate Change (Price, 2009)
- Changes in severe thunderstorm environment frequency during the 21st century caused by anthropogenically enhanced global radiative forcing (Trapp et al., 2007)
- Will moist convection be stronger in a warmer climate? (Del Genio et al., 2007)
- Transient response of severe thunderstorm forcing to elevated greenhouse gas concentrations (Trapp et al., 2009)
There are many questions that are open areas of study, including how storm seasons and geography may be shifting, but that thunderstorms are powered by latent and thermal heat is something that has been understood since the 19th century (see Espy, 1841, Philosophy of Storms).
Today, Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented the city’s long-term plan to prepare for the impacts of a changing climate in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. “We haven’t waited for Washington to lead the climate change charge,” Bloomberg said at the Duggal Greenhouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “If we did, we’d still be waiting.”The adaptation plan he presented, the work of the Special Initiative for Resilience and Rebuilding, which was established by the mayor in December of last year, is an important step for New York City in the right direction. Most impressively, the plan has a comprehensive approach for reducing the risk of catastrophic flooding through multiple initiatives from surge barriers to improved building codes from Staten Island to Far Rockaway, from Red Hook to lower Manhattan. The plan looks not just to the regions devastated by Superstorm Sandy but uses projections developed by top climate scientists for the rising threat of man-made global warming in the coming decades, Bloomberg said:
In fact, we expect that by mid-century up to one-quarter of all of New York City’s land area, where 800,000 residents live today, will be in the floodplain. If we do nothing, more than 40 miles of our waterfront could see flooding on a regular basis, just during normal high tides.
Unfortunately, there are major flaws.
The nearly $300 million climate-resiliency initiative established by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg using Sandy relief funds will not address climate pollution, according to a city official.
The New York City Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR), formed in November 2012, will release a report this month indicating how $294 million in federal funding from the Superstorm Sandy relief act should be spent to increase the city’s “climate resiliency.” The report “will present policy recommendations, infrastructure priorities, and community plans, and identify sources of long-term funding” in addition to the emergency federal funds — but it apparently will not include an accounting of the carbon footprint of that infrastructure development.In an email, SIRR spokesperson Daynan Crull told Hill Heat that because the initiative’s job is to “protect New York City against future climate threats,” it “does not directly address energy generation vis-à-vis fossil fuels”:
SIRR’s directive is rebuild and protect New York City against future climate threats, so it does not directly address energy generation vis-à-vis fossil fuels. However, New York City has been a global leader in environmental urban policy, pioneering PlaNYC—one of the most comprehensive sustainable and environmentally conscious policy programs ever established for a major city. It is upon this foundation that SIRR is built. Indeed PlaNYC established the New York City Panel on Climate Change, which is supporting SIRR’s work with the best climate science available.
Crull’s statement makes no sense—if SIRR’s plan is to “protect New York City against future climate threats,” it must necessarily “address energy generation vis-à-vis fossil fuels.” One cannot wall off energy use and infrastructure planning into separate boxes. This announcement is especially troubling because it is not clear that New York City is increasing any of its investments in renewable energy or carbon pollution reduction in response to Sandy. Instead, the city is moving forward with new fossil-fuel infrastructure, including a fracked-gas pipeline planned to cut through the Rockaways.
Former New York Army Corps of Engineers Commander Warns Sandy Survivors To Stop Ignoring Climate Change
At a May 16 televised forum on the recovery from Superstorm Sandy, a former top military infrastructure official called on Americans to “stop ignoring” climate change and “realize it’s the new reality.” At the Sandy town hall organized by public television stations NJTV and WNET, John Boulé, the former commander of the New York District, Army Corps of Engineers, warned New Yorkers to stop ignoring climate change and start preparing for higher sea level rise and more frequent and more powerful storms:
First of all, we’ve got to realize it’s the new reality. Climate change is real. It’s more than sea level rise that’s going to happen over the course of the next 100 years. It’s greater storm intensities, it’s greater storm frequencies. We’ve got to stop ignoring it and start planning and building to reduce the risk to the public. That’s where we are.
Like Boulé, other panelists, including PSE&G president Ralph LaRossa, recognized the “new reality” of rising seas and extreme weather. Although these words are welcome, the most important element of facing the reality of climate change is understanding that it’s caused by human activities — something no-one at the forum did. In fact, Richard Ravitch, the real-estate scion and former Democratic lieutenant governor of New York, blamed “forces of nature” on sea level rise.
At no point during the two-hour forum did any panelist or reporter discuss the manmade causes of climate change or recommend opposing the threat to civilization posed by the fossil-fuel industry. The words “fossil fuels,” “carbon”, “greenhouse,” “pollution,” and “oil” were never mentioned. Also not mentioned was David Koch, the carbon pollution billionaire and richest man in New York, who was on the board of WNET from 2006 until the day of the forum. At the WNET board meeting on the morning of May 16, Koch’s resignation was accepted.
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, New York City’s flagship public television station, WNET, has dropped the richest man in New York, carbon pollution billionaire David Koch, from its board of trustees. Days before the monthly board meeting on May 16, Koch’s name was removed from the WNET website. Koch had been a board member since 2006. Koch has been funding WNET since 1986.
The severance of Koch’s longstanding relationship with WNET — which not only serves the New York City area but also produces national programs such as Charlie Rose, Nature, and Great Performances — comes at a time of increasing tension between Koch’s anti-regulatory, climate-polluting industrial empire and the educational mission of public television.
The inherent conflict between Koch’s conspiratorial, anti-science ideology and the public interest with has come under attention in recent months. After Superstorm Sandy struck, WNET’s Charlie Rose and Bill Moyers ran shows on the tragic consequences and threat of greenhouse pollution for the New York region. More recently, reports of Koch Industries’ interest in the newspaper holdings of the Tribune Company have spurred nationwide protests.
Koch also was featured in the November 2012 PBS documentary Park Avenue, which contrasted the extreme wealth of Koch’s residence at 740 Park Avenue with the stark poverty less than a mile north in East Harlem. In the documentary, a former doorman noted that Koch, with a net worth of about $45 billion, gives only $50 holiday tips.
Just after Koch left the WNET board, the station ran a major live town hall on Superstorm Sandy. Broadcasting from New Jersey and New York City, the NY/NJ/Long Island affiliates under WNET management broadcast a two-hour show that talked repeatedly about the major threat posed by climate change in rising sea levels and more frequent storms of increased intensity—threats which Koch’s Cato Institute denies.
By a 3-2 vote on Monday, May 6, the New Mexico State University Board of Regents selected Garrey Carruthers, who questions the science of climate change, to be the next president of the land-grant institution in drought-plagued Las Cruces, despite widespread concern from faculty, students, alumni, and local legislators.
After news reports that Carruthers chaired a tobacco-industry front group in the 1990s and is a global warming skeptic, four New Mexico state representatives sent a letter to Board of Regents chair Mike Cheney questioning the wisdom of his candidacy. Last weekend, over 300 New Mexico residents signed a Forecast the Facts petition to the Board of Regents, saying: “Don’t select Garrey Carruthers, who rejects the science of climate change, to be the next president of New Mexico State University.” The petition was delivered to the board by an NMSU student.Board of Regents Chair Mike Cheney, a local businessman and one of the three supporters of Carruthers, told reporters that he did not speak with the legislators concerned with Carruthers’ ties to Phillip Morris and his questioning of climate science:
On Monday, Cheney said he had not talked to Carruthers about his involvement in TASSC and still hoped to speak to several of the legislators about their concerns about Carruthers’ work on behalf of Philip Morris.“When we began the search process, we realized immediately that our next president must clearly understand the environment,” Cheney said without a sense of irony.
On Friday, the City of New York allocated $294 million of Superstorm Sandy recovery funds for resiliency projects to respond to the threat of fossil-fueled climate change. The announcement was part of the unveiling of NYC’s plan for $1.77 billion in Sandy recovery initiatives by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) at New York City Hall:
The City has set aside $294 million for resiliency investments to be detailed in a report issued by the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency later this month.
“HUD’s approval of our comprehensive Action Plan enables us to take the next critical step toward recovery – launching the programs for home rebuilding and business assistance that will rejuvenate the neighborhoods Sandy hit hardest,” said Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway. “We’ll also take the first steps toward making the City more resilient to the impacts that we know climate change will bring.”
On Monday at 4 pm, the New Mexico Board of Regents is prepared to hold a public vote to choose the next president of New Mexico State University (NMSU), the major land-grant institution in Las Cruces, NM. One of the top candidates is Garrey Carruthers, a former Republican governor. Carruthers is also a climate-change denier who ran a tobacco-industry front group for years.
From 1993 to 1998, Carruthers was the chairman of The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), a tobacco industry-funded lobby group that claims that the health risks of smoking and the threat of global warming are “junk science.”
Questioned last week by NMSU scientist Dr. Gary Roemer at an on-campus meeting on his candidacy to become university president, Carruthers asserted that there is not a scientific consensus on climate change. He continued: “I don’t know. I’m an economist. I don’t do global warming. It’s a scientific judgment that I can’t make.”Dr. Roemer responded:
I think it’s pretty appalling that a presidential candidate for this university does not have a vision for dealing with the most serious environmental crisis that humanity and our Earth have ever faced.
In a telephone interview, Dr. Roemer confirmed that he finds fossil-fueled climate change to be a fundamental crisis.
Although Carruthers rejects the science of climate change, he has disavowed TASSC’s position on smoking. “I’m four-square against second-hand smoke,” Carruthers said in a recent interview with the Albuquerque Journal. “I don’t think people should smoke, and second-hand smoke is detrimental to other people’s health.”
State Reps. Phillip Archuleta, Nate Cote, Bill McCamley, and Jeff Steinborn have written to the Board of Regents opposing the selection of a climate-change denier as New Mexico faces global-warming-fueled drought.
In response, the climate-science accountability group Forecast the Facts has launched a petition effort to mobilize against the selection of Carruthers. The signatures will be delivered at the open vote on Monday.
On Thursday, March 7, President Barack Obama met with energy industry executives, cleantech entrepreneurs, and influential Obama supporters to discuss an approach to energy policy that emphasizes fracking, renewables, and energy efficiency.
The White House described the meeting as such: “During the meeting, the president reiterated his commitment to a cleaner and more secure energy future. The discussion covered a variety of topics including the important role of natural gas in our domestic energy portfolio, new opportunities for renewables like wind, solar and advanced biofuels, the importance of clean energy research and development, as well as the promise and potential of increased energy efficiency in our homes and businesses.”
According to The Hill, the only climate scientist in the room was Dr. John Holdren, the White House science adviser. There were no representatives of environmental organizations.Participants:
- James T. Hackett, executive chairman, Anadarko, gas and oil
- Jeffrey W. Shaw, chief executive, Southwest Gas
- Lew Hay, executive chairman, NextEra (low-coal utility); chairman, Edison Electric Institute
- Debra Reed, chief executive, Sempra, natural-gas
- Frederick W. Smith, chairman, president, and chief executive, FedEx
- Terry Royer, president and chief executive, Winergy, wind-power company
- Cynthia Warner, president, Sapphire Energy, biofuel entrepreneur
- Alex Laskey, president and founder, Opower, smart-grid entrepreneur
- Walter Isaacson, president and chief executive, Aspen Institute, author of Steve Jobs biography, Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors
- Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, president, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, nuclear physicist
- Dr. Eric Lander, professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, PCAST, biologist
- Bill Ritter Jr., director, Center for New Energy Economy, Colorado State University, former Democratic Colorado governor
- Dr. Cass R. Sunstein, professor, Harvard Law School, former Obama OMB OIRA administrator
- Susan F. Tierney, managing principal, Analysis Group, director, World Resources Institute, Policy Subgroup Chair of the National Petroleum Council’s study of the North American natural gas resources, Bipartisan Policy Center, Obama transition team
- Heather Zichal, White House energy and climate adviser
- Dr. John Holdren, White House science adviser
- Cecilia Muñoz, Domestic Policy Council Director
Obama is scheduled to visit the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago next Friday for a public speech on energy policy.
State Department: Keystone XL Pipeline 'Would Be Buried Deep Enough To Avoid Surface Impacts of Climate Changes' It Would Help Cause
During the operations period, climate change projections suggest the following changes:
- Warmer winter temperatures;
- A shorter cool season;
- A longer duration of frost-free periods;
- More freeze-thaw cycles per year (which could lead to an increased number of episodes of soil contraction and expansion);
- Warmer summer temperatures;
- Increased number of hot days and consecutive hot days; and
- Longer summers (which could lead to impacts associated with heat stress and wildfire risks). The pipeline would be buried deep enough to avoid surface impacts of climate changes (freeze-thaw cycles, fires, and temperature extremes).
As Secretary of State John Kerry said six years ago, “we’re on an urgent clock” to confront fossil-fueled climate change, which he compared to the threat of nuclear weaponry as a “man-made” and “uncontrolled” weapon with “the ability to change life as we know it on this Earth.” Kerry’s recognition of the scientific necessity to keep global concentrations of carbon dioxide below 450 ppm should preclude the possibility of building a pipeline designed to pump 7 gigatons of carbon dioxide worth of tar sands crude over decades. In one of his first speeches as Secretary of State, Kerry said that the United States is in “this moment of urgency to lead on the climate concerns that we share with our global neighbors.”
Why then, does the State Department’s draft impact statement ignore Kerry’s clear understanding of the threat posed by the Keystone XL pipeline? Perhaps it’s because the statement is literally bought and paid for by Keystone XL’s maker, the foreign tar sands company TransCanada.
The impact statement was written by a TransCanada contractor, not by State Department officials. The “sustainability consultancy” Environmental Resources Management was paid an undisclosed amount under contract to TransCanada to write the statement, which is now an official government document.
The impact statement did not take into account the predicted political instability that is already starting to occur because of global warming, however. As Kerry said in 2009, “catastrophic climate change represents a threat to human security, global stability, and
- yes - even to American national security.” As economist Sir Nicholas Stern said, “the cost of inaction” on climate change is a “serious risk of global war.”