April 21, 2005

Tsunamis and Global Warming: Who would dare connect them?

Shortly after the devastating tsunami struck southeast Asia on December 26, 2004, there were several instances where mentions of tsunamis made their way into global warming stories. Whether this conflation was intentional or not has been subject to debate. Most recently in a breathless article written for Mother Jones Magazine, envirojournalist Bill McKibben goes so far as to make the case that the connection between global warming and tsunamis was fabricated by “the usual suspects” in order to take pot shots at the environmental community. McKibben claims that the Wall Street Journal brought the issue to the forefront by drawing a connection where no connection existed in citing two activists who were quoted in the UK’s Independent about an increase in global catastrophes in general but not specifically linking global warming and the tsunami.

McKibben fingered me [Patrick Michaels] as furthering this plot, writing “Patrick Michaels of the Cato Institute issued a press release attacking ‘anyone who has the moral audacity’ to blame deaths from the tsunami on global warming, and added that ‘Michael Crichton should sue environmentalists who blame the massive death toll’ on global warming for plagiarism.”

Obviously, there is no connection between rising air temperatures and earthquake-spawned tsunamis. To suggest such a relation, even overtly, is a shameful mischaracterization of science in an effort to push an alarmist global warming agenda. To this, I think that McKibben and I can agree. However, I strongly disagree with McKibben that this conflation has never been made.

As a further example, I present below, text taken directly from the website of the Public Broadcasting System in a section of their website called “National Geographic’s Strange Days on the Planet Earth.” The title of the article is “6 Reasons Why You Should Care.” This is reason Number 1:

Extreme Weather

Despite the difficulties inherent in developing weekly weather forecasts, scientists have a greater degree of confidence in predicting long-term weather trends – and sometimes what they see is not pretty.

In essence, scientists are finding Earth’s apparent long-term rising temperature can impact regular weather events, such as rainfall, hurricanes, tornadoes and droughts by pushing them to extremes. Weather events of all kinds may become stronger and more intense. How can weather wreak more havoc or more damage? A hurricane is a hurricane, a tornado a tornado, a tsunami a tsunami [emphasis added] – when they wreak havoc and do damage it can be devastating even without a severe jump in temperature. Such extreme weather has the potential to devastate and impact peoples’ lives and property across the globe on an increasingly serious scale.

In nobody’s dictionary is “tsunami” listed as a weather event. It has no business being listed in this paragraph in extreme weather and global warming. While there is no text that specifically reads “Tsunamis will get worse because of global warming,” its inclusion in this paragraph speaks for itself.

As always is my mantra, “I am not making this up.”

References:

McKibben, B., 2005. Stranger Than Fiction. Mother Jones, http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2005/05/stranger_than_fiction.html.

PBS.org, 2005. 6 Reasons Why You Should Care, http://www.pbs.org/strangedays/episodes/onedegreefactor/care/index.html.




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