A new study published in the Nature this week is drawing praise and criticism from both sides of the global warming divide. It says that the reason global warming is ranked as such a non-issue by most people in the U.S. is because it has made the weather “more pleasant” for them. The study is based on the migratory patterns of people that indicates people prefer counties that are warm and non-humid over areas that are freezing and always snowing.
The lead authors, New York University professor Patrick Egan and fellow researcher Megan Mullin, say that climate change has made the “weather more ideal over the last 40 years,” making winters more mild and summers slightly warmer. There’s a few problems, though, with that basic premise: because of a strong, naturally occurring El Niño, this past winter was indeed milder, but prior to that the Northern Hemisphere has not seen an increase in temperatures as portrayed in this study. Same with summers (which they accurately note).
Egan says that “Americans are getting the wrong signal from year-round weather about whether they should be concerned about climate change. They’re getting the good parts and haven’t had to pay the price of the bad part.” They also cautioned that Americans have “little motivation to demand action” and that there’s a good likelihood that bigger climate issues are in the forecast.
Mullin, a professor of environmental politics at Duke University, told the Los Angeles Times: “We’ve received warmer winters without paying the price for hotter summers. But when you look forward… that’s going to shift, and Americans will experience weather, by their current preferences, they’re going to think of as worse.”
They created what they call a “weather preference index” and showed that winters are becoming milder while summers have remained the same (both should go up in a warming world). That is also borne out in NOAA’s U.S. Climate Extreme’s Index (CEI), a chart showing the number of heatwaves during a given summer. They also say that how you feel about global warming depends on the weather in your region, and “none of this gives the American public reason to demand change and public policies to address this critical problem,” Mullin says.
While some climate scientists are throwing in the towel for planet Earth, “the public is not receiving the message with alarm,” Mullin exhorts. “They’re receiving it with complacency. They’re thinking of warm, sunny winter days.” And she wouldn’t be that far off the mark given the hot-and-cold, cyclic climate trends the planet goes through every thirty years or so. Prior to the 2015 El Niño, 2014-15 had one of the deadliest, coldest, most brutal winters on record. Cold kills 20 times more people than heat does, and mostly on so-called “moderate” days.
Kevin Trenberth, a climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told the Associated Press in an email that “hot summers are more of a problem than the study suggests.” He said that the “fires, droughts and heat waves of a record hot 2012 cost &$75 billion. The problem comes when you look at the actual data, which shows no increase in fires, droughts, heatwaves, or floods, despite his proclamations of there being more.
Professor Renee McPherson said “politics, more than weather, colors people’s perception of climate change,” and not the daily weather they experience each day as the Nature study suggests. Critics of the study tell the AP the study “doesn’t deal with extreme weather like this week’s downpours in Houston, California’s four-year drought, or Superstorm Sandy,” ignoring the fact that climate data shows no increase in extreme weather.
Many of these dire predictions are based on climate model predictions, but according to a new study also in Nature, climate models are having a difficult time even forecasting precipitation. Climatologists, lead by Fredrik Charpentier Ljungqvist of Stockholm University, analyzed “historical climate data and found that in the case of rainfall, the data contradict the results of climate models.” The research shows that the climate models are having issues “calculating changes in precipitation” and “drought forecasts are barely trustworthy.”
Matthew Nisbet, who studies climate communications at Northeastern University, told the AP the “weather is pleasant” study was “seriously flawed.” He said using a person’s residence is “not a good indicator of the weather people prefer,” which may surprise all the retirees that flock to Florida, Southern California, and Arizona. Even Penn State Professor Michael Mann chimed in and said the study raises “interesting points, but climate change has other major impacts on people. It can trigger droughts, floods and heavy rainfalls; increase sea levels; make food and water scarce; and spread insect-borne diseases.”
As noted previously, there has been no increase in droughts, floods, increased sea level rise, and the extra carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has been beneficial to crops and agriculture. There has also been no clear linkage between the spread of disease like the Zika virus. The strong, naturally occurring El Niño of 2015 brought massive amounts of rainfall to Latin America, and more rain equals more mosquitoes.
Dr. Judith Curry, a climate expert and Georgia Tech professor, told Examiner news in an email that the paper’s findings made sense to her, adding: “The biggest flaw in the arguments for dangerous human-caused climate change is that, so far, climate change hasn’t been dangerous at all, and at least in the near term, a slightly warmer climate is probably overall beneficial.”