Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sierra Club's Jeff Tittel Smears Star-Ledger Article and its Contributors for Excluding Climate Religion from Hurricane Analysis

On September 22, 2017, the New Jersey Star-Ledger published an interesting article, Hurricane experts reveal why this season has been so destructive by Len Melisurgo. The article cited the combination of factors, including unusually warm ocean temperatures, lack of wind shear, and the positions of high pressure systems to explain the severity and number of this year’s tropical storms.

Not everyone was happy. New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel, for example, wrote a Star-Ledger guest column blasting Melisurgo and the Star-Ledger:

In response to the article “Hurricane experts reveal why this season has been so destructive”: This article discusses factors that have made this hurricane season one of the worst in history, but fails to mention the importance of climate change.

Climate change is playing a very serious role in this year’s devastating hurricane season. Forecasters predicted a more active hurricane season to begin with because of climate- change projections. Specifically, it is linked to warmer ocean temperatures. By denying climate change, we’re denying our future and allowing ourselves to become more vulnerable to larger and more frequent hurricanes

In a highly misleading paragraph, Tittel cites “more named storms per year in the last decade than the last 100 years” (without mentioning that more storms are detectable due to modern technology, like satellites, and more people able to observe them); “massive amounts of damage to communities and the environment from these storms” (without mentioning increased development and federal flood insurance); “four of the most devastating storms in history coming all within a few weeks of each other (which is explained convincing in Melisurgo’s article). “Hurricane Harvey had the most rain ever (actually, on record for Texas, not ever—and because the storm stalled out over Texas and Louisiana, not because it’s rainfall was unusual from a hurricane), Irma was the biggest storm in the Atlantic (but not the most intense, which was the 1935 Florida Keys hurricane), and Maria devastated Puerto Rico (the same Puerto Rico that has been hit with 28 hurricanes since 1950, 13 of them major).” He then says: “We can’t deny the impact that climate change is having on storm events.”

In conclusion, Tittel writes: “The Christie administration’s continuing denial of climate change is a denial of our future. Our state climatologist [David Robinson] works for the Christie administration and won’t even acknowledge the dangers of climate change.”

Tittel’s article has not yet been published online. But I left the following comments on Hurricane experts reveal why this season has been so destructive, edited and expanded for clarity:

In light of a guest column by Jeff Tittel criticizing this article for “fail[ing] to mention the importance of climate change,” I want to thank Len Melisurgo for an objective, informative article on the combination of atmospheric and oceanic conditions that cause active hurricane seasons like the current one.

And I want to thank Michael Priante and David Robinson for their expert contributions to the article.

I especially want to thank Robinson, who was specifically criticized by Jeff Tittel for not blaming climate change for the hurricane activity. Tittel asserted that “Climate change is playing a very serious role in this year’s devastating hurricane season.” But that is a faith-based assertion, not a scientific fact. Much research refutes that claim, including an August 2017 report by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) saying that “It is premature to conclude that human activities–and particularly greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming–have already had a detectable impact on Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone activity.” NOAA notes that various modeling indicates future hurricane numbers and intensity is likely to increase in the 21st Century due to human emissions of greenhouse gases, with potential increases ranging from moderate to extreme, depending on the models used. But that is speculation, not scientifically demonstrated fact. Furthermore, the IPCC reports,

  • "There is limited evidence of changes in extremes associated with other climate variables since the mid-20th century”
  • “Current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century … No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin”

It would be an insult to the readers to include climate change as a cause, without evidence, in an article about this year’s hurricanes. I would have immediately stopped reading and moved on if climate change was mentioned, having judged the article as unserious. Tittel has an irrational bias against fossil fuels, and his motives are political and dogmatic—bordering on religious zealotry. Robinson works for the government. In America, we have the separation of religion and state. Robinson would have not only distorted the issue if he followed Tittel’s advice. He would have come close to violating a key American principle.

Thanks again for the article. As a long-time weather buff, I hope you keep up the good work.

Related Reading:

A Carbon Tax Won't Stop Hurricanes—James Agresti for FEE

No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin.

NOAA states that North Atlantic tropical storms show a “pronounced upward trend” since 1878, but this is because these records are “relatively sparse” in their early decades. After NOAA adjusts for the “estimated number of missing storms,” the trend in storm activity is “not significantly distinguishable from zero.” Furthermore, NOAA notes that the upward trend in the unadjusted data

is almost entirely due to increases in short-duration storms alone. Such short-lived storms were particularly likely to have been overlooked in the earlier parts of the record, as they would have had less opportunity for chance encounters with ship traffic.

With regard to the most intense storms, NOAA reports that “the reported numbers of hurricanes were sufficiently high during the 1860s-1880s that again there is no significant positive trend in numbers beginning from that era…. This is without any adjustment for ‘missing hurricanes.’”

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