Saturday, May 30, 2009

We're All Going to Die ! (Well, Maybe Not...)

The media widely reported a study issued by the Global Humanitarian Forum which suggested that some 315,000 or more would die each year as a result of global warming.

It is nonsense and an example of bad science being used to set the stage for the global climate change conference in Copenhagen in December. We can expect more of this shoddy work by scientists concerned about polemics rather than science in the next few months.

Here’s why it is bad. First, natural disasters such as hurricanes, flu, tsunami’s, earthquakes have been occurring since the beginning of time – plagues and pestilence, floods and swarms of locusts appear in the Bible. There is no established link between human induced climate change and such naturally occurring disasters. In particular, hurricanes and extreme weather events occur as a result of a range of phenomena, of which climate change is one, but have occurred with greater frequency (especially hurricanes) than currently experienced before human induced climate change was an issue.

Second, many of the assumptions in the report are based on some very odd claims. For example, the report looks at earthquakes in 1980 and compares them with those in 2005 (no explanation of why these two dates are chosen) and then suggests that all weather patterns connected to disasters follow the same trajectory as the difference in number of earthquakes between these two years. This is irrational. It is like looking at baseball scores in 1980 and 2005 and suggesting that all events in cricket can be explained by the differences observed in baseball scores between these two years.

Third, even though their premise is absurb, it gets worse. All deaths and unfortunate outcomes over and above those which occurred at the 1980 level in each subsequent year are attributed to a single cause – man made global warming. No evidence, no partitioning of the data into different categories of cause, just the assumption that it “must be global warming” and man made warming at that.

Fourth, the increase in disasters observed worldwide can be entirely attributed to socio-economic changes. This is what has been extensively documented in the peer reviewed literature, and yet — none of this literature is cited in this report. Not one serious review of this literature is included. Instead the report authors rely on this cooked up comparison between earthquakes and weather related disasters. To be fair, the paper does cite the Stern review of the impact of climate change, but several subsequent reviews of the Stern data and analysis show clearly that these estimates were off by an order of magnitude and relied on a similar sort of statistical gamesmanship to develop its results (which is why serious researchers dismiss Stern’s analysis).

These kind of reports – scaremongering fiction masquerading as “science” – will begin to appear more strongly in September and October as the pre-Copenhagen meetings start in earnest. They will reveal that science, rather than being a disciplined and systematic approach to the study of a given phenomena, is becoming more like a branch of politics with edited and made up data and poor methods being excused because the conclusions and claims “fit” the political rhetoric needed to steer world political leaders in the “right” direction in December. As a scientist concerned about methodological integrity, such polemical nonsense is offensive. As a journalist, I am concerned that my colleagues treat such reports as factual when in fact they are fiction.

1 comment:

Stephen Murgatroyd said...

By the way, Koffi Annan is President of the organization which published this study and he asks for $40 billion to support climate change mitigation by poorer countries...for $40billion.....