Professor: Environmentalists exaggerating extreme weather

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Environmentalists have been pointing to intense storms and extreme weather to urge lawmakers to immediately address climate change, but some researchers contend this trend has been exaggerated.

The U.S. is in an “intense hurricane drought,” according to Roger Pielke, Jr., environmental studies professor at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“Climate change is real and has a significant human component,” he told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “But that does not justify exaggerating the science associated with extreme events and disasters. One reason is that such exaggerations are not in line with current science.”

Pielke told TheDC News Foundation that an “intense hurricane drought” means the the country is currently in the longest stretch between intense hurricanes — Category 3,4, and 5 — ever documented. When the next hurricane season starts on June 1, 2013, it will have been more than seven years since the intense hurricane hit the Atlantic coast.

Pielke notes that there has not been such a prolonged period without intense hurricanes hitting the U.S. since 1900. In fact, hurricane landfall intensity and frequency has not increased in the U.S. for at least more than a century.

Climate activists and even President Barack Obama, however, have been using the destructive hurricane as well as other “extreme weather” events to justify swift government action to address climate change.

“Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods — all are now more frequent and intense,” Obama said in his State of the Union Address. “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science — and act before it’s too late.”

Hurricane Sandy was estimated to be the second costliest cyclone to hit the U.S. since 1900 — causing nearly $50 billion in damages. That was due to the storm’s massive size, as it was still a Category 1 hurricane.

However, Pielke argues that the costs of weather disasters “are not a proxy for trends in climate phenomena.”

According to Pielke, flood magnitudes in the U.S. have not increased in over a century, possibly longer, and a report from 2008 found that “droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the U.S. over the last century.”

Pielke also points out that there has been no evidence of an increasing incidence of tornadoes, especially high-damage ones, in the U.S. since 1950.

Pielke worries that over-hyping extreme weather events is dangerous because when “people are convinced that we’re are seeing worst-case scenarios, they may actually be unprepared for worse disasters to come — which are in the cards regardless of the climate change connection.”

“During long periods with no disaster, we build more, people move to the coast, our wealth accumulates,” Pielke told TheDC News Foundation. “So even comparing past storms to what is possible will leave us underestimating potential impacts. History is not a good guide to what the future holds — which will inevitably be worse disasters than in the past.”

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