“Hurricanes like Irma and Harvey are not caused by climate change” by Graham Lloyd in The Australian of 11 September 2017 …



Graham Lloyd, an environmental reporter for The Australian, is completely right to base his article and comments dealing with the contentious topic of ‘Hurricanes & Climate Change’ on the self-confessed uncertainties and ‘incalculables’, the latter of a scientific-statistical nature, contained within scientifically based judgments by an agency like the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the very same topic, available in the public intellectual domain.

Moreover, in doing so, he’s reminding his readers that the perceivable pro-Climate Change assumptions that such an institution evinces in its pronouncements, reports and publications are by themselves based on hypotheses, theories and models as well as certain proto-ideological attitudes that are inevitably, once publicised, eminently unbarred to critical evaluation and debate, in many areas thereby opened to reinterpretation, opposition and possibly even rejection.

A few of Lloyd’s points justify more detailed exploration, ideally as a preliminary to reading (i.e. as suggested, the whole article …) in order to delineate more effectively the aptness, acumen and careful consideration of his framing remarks, allowing above all his scientific sources to expose themselves:

In referring to the current seasonal history of tropical storms and hurricanes, he already correctly undercuts the forced interpretation that it has been a climatically aberrant one because not only did experienced Caribbean fishermen recognise familiar foreshadowings of meteorological things to come - or, indeed, did the storm-generating conveyor belt stretching all the way back to tropical Africa remain dynamic as it’s supposed to, albeit in an exceptionally lively manner - Harvey itself was the consequence of a specific configuration of atmospheric conditions, responsible for record rainfall and flooding because it “was held in place for days by two high-pressure systems “. Therefore, expressed in everyday journalese, ‘none of the above’ seems relatable to Climate Change or Global Warming – or associated guilt/attribution complexes.

As Lloyd reminds us, moreover, it’s also necessary to keep in mind that we all now live in a media created and/or mediated landscape, i.e. the role of media reporting is central in creating certain perceptions, such as arbitrary connections made between Global Warming or Climate Change and hurricanes (as well as other extreme weather phenomena), the latter having been there throughout recorded and pre-recorded history - especially obvious if you’ve received at least basic schooling, making you familiar enough with the natural history of the earth, i.e. “Around-the-clock media coverage followed Hurricane Irma [after Harvey] as it left a trail of catastrophic damage …”

Worst of all, mainstream tabloid newspapers that rely on sensation and exaggeration, as he states, “… have been able to measure the hurricane season through the eyes of celebrity property”. Link to this the tabloid mentality and commentary personified by [in our era especially] over-inflated Hollywood starlets, and you need to start thinking about the dangers of a kind of undue influence imposed upon young mass-media herded and brainwashed teenagers by the likes of those that have shared their unqualified and unwanted ‘wisdom of the ages’ about the alleged causes of natural disasters in truly outrageous form worthy of fantasy-reasoning that wouldn’t be out of place in The Hunger Games:

“Oscar-winning actor Jennifer Lawrence said Harvey and Irma were signs of ‘Mother Nature’s rage and wrath’ at the US for electing Trump to the presidency and not believing in man-made climate change.”

Write that fanciful one into a B movie plot for an unofficial Hunger Games sequel, directed by Lawrence, no doubt subsequently not even likely to achieve direct-to-video but instead defaulting directly to YouTube with limited entertainment value, invulnerable to the discretion and tastes of bored teenyboppers only (hopefully after school).

Before moving on to the meatier scientific arguments contra making any connection between the present seasonal hurricane lineage of destruction represented by Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia & Co., it’s necessary to recall that artificial human urban geography has been intruding ever further upon territory previously subject to extreme natural forces.

For over a decade, the US mainland has been spared, rather exceptionally, including Florida with its exposed geographical location and tropical/sub-tropical meteorology, i.e. thereby making the present one (i.e. season) a “furious year that has broken a more than decade-long drought [meaning absence] for the US”.

Although the Australian Climate Council (a quasi-independent non-profit with strong academic-institutional-ideological connections) has exaggeratedly claimed that the “Fingerprints of climate change [are] all over Tropical Storm Harvey” and that it represents a “window into our future”, this is contradicted directly in terms of the anticipated warmer atmosphere/warmer surface(s) water/s argument offered, because Irma “developed into a major hurricane over relatively cool waters in the Atlantic”, backed by first-rate scientific data (e.g. related by climate scientist Judith Curry) .

As argued at the outset of this motivation, there is inestimable merit in Lloyd’s decision to cite the NOAA evaluation by its Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory regarding climate change dynamics and the consequences of these for “hurricane strength and prevalence”, now and in the future.

It will also be necessary to refer, however briefly and by way of introduction, to the evaluation itself (by the GFDL), including saying something about its sources, in what follows. This is the firm basis upon which independent researchers like this one can state, with full confidence and equanimity, that those belonging to the international Global Warming/ Climate Change Commentariat should seriously reconsider their ‘hyped’ approach and style, instead resorting to measured concepts and phrases without unwarranted CAP(s)-italisation, i.e. global warming and climate change, for, depending of course on the nature of any given geo-physical or climatological cycle, those phenomena and processes are constants.

The official GFDL (Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, NOAA) position on possible connections between ‘Global Warming and Hurricanes’, expounds the following important points (and was last updated very recently on 30 August 2017), summarising the scientific foundations thereof:

(a) It’s impossible to make the connection as there isn’t yet any evident proof and it would therefore be necessary to wait for positive evidence in terms of future developments; (b) it may be speculated only at this point that so–called anthropogenic warming (man-made) may result in more intense hurricanes by the end of the 21st century; (c) once again, there is a very slim chance of more intense hurricanes in some areas that typically experience hurricanes (although, overall, there is even a slight decrease in frequency possible) and (d) it is possible that by the end of the present century there might be an increase in rainfall measured associated with these extreme weather events.

Although the following obviously represents more reading - and of a decidedly taxing nature - than the average reader might be interested in, a responsible researcher knows that careful analysis of all sources is called for in weighing a position as in the case of the one held by NOAA/GFDL. One such example is a paper that appeared in Science (2010), a publication accessed and consulted by a substantial international readership, called “Modeled Impact of Anthropogenic Warming on the Frequency of Intense Atlantic Hurricanes”.

This source is quite important, because it claims that the frequency of the strongest hurricanes may increase by “a factor of two”, at the same time conceding that there is likely to be a decrease in the overall occurrence of these catastrophic meteorological events. However, as suggested, careful analysis of the claims points to time spans that contribute to uncertainty, speculation and vagueness, e.g. “end of the century” (i.e. 21st) and by “2100”. This well-informed scientific opinion (that’s all it can claim to be) is also informed by an extreme scenario assumption, namely that CO2 emissions will have doubled by the end of the century. Not only - as the short summary above demonstrates - is the best available scientific opinion on the matter speculative at best, it really starts to unkink once its source(s) of support are more closely scrutinised.

All in all, Graham Lloyd is right to point out in his introductory remarks on the GFDL position specifically that it is “premature” to make this extraordinary claim about the impact of human activities “on Atlantic hurricane or global tropical cyclone [near impossible for current climate science, other than wild speculation?] activity”.

As may be expected, NOAA believes that there is a correlation between an increase in the number of cyclones or tropical storms observed and therefore recorded, since 1878, or so, and the historically problematic finding of a rise in ocean surface temperatures over the same period. However, as Lloyd remarks, these records are “sparse”, a fact acknowledged by NOAA, and ship-based reports handed down from olden times can hardly be regarded as definitive.

Based on estimations for (historically) unreported storms, it would seem that NOAA would speculate further that there has been a trend of more tropical storm occurrences, but in statistical terms, “… it is not significantly distinguishable from zero”. The weather phenomena that contribute to making a difference here (to supposedly more complete, hypothetically extrapolated extreme weather records) amount to being actually quite negligible in terms of impact, e.g. storms lasting for “less than two days”. Significantly, the statistically negligible upward trend “... was even weaker for hurricanes that made landfall in the US …”, one would imagine to be perhaps the most important finding of all.

Lloyd manages to identify the self-exposing sentence that really matters for anyone interested in the (academic-institutional-) scientific saga unfolding around the early 21st century Global Warming/Climate Change preoccupation:

In short, the historical hurricane record does not provide compelling evidence for a substantial greenhouse warming-induced long-term increase”.

As indicated above in analysing the manner in which the relevant research has been framed in terms of open-ended temporal speculation and hypothetical extrapolations, in his remaining remarks, Lloyd emphasises the truly arbitrary manner of scientific projections available at this time.

He refers to the worrisome fact that the NOAA position entails that impacts may only become palpable in the future, but at the same time points out that if those transpire it would be the result of changes that are very tiny in magnitude and bound to “observational limitations”.

Another interesting fact is the one, based on the corpus of research referred to here, that it is believed that there may indeed be a decrease in the number of cyclones around the world in conjunction with observed marginal warming trends. Don’t ask for logical consistency, right?

Positions like that of NOAA nonetheless insists that there will be more intense storms, in spite of this likelihood (of an overall decrease). The immediate implication here is that this represents yet another claim that is hard to take seriously, underscored by the salience of yet another example of one of those speculative temporal deferrals already referred to, i.e. “… this increase may not be detectable until the latter half of the century”.

It also has a categorical effect when Lloyd quotes, in full, near the end of the article, the effective acknowledgement offered by NOAA/GFDL that despite imputing those vague and unconvincing “statistical correlations” between sea surface temperatures and the frequency and nature of Atlantic hurricane activity during the very recent period of modern scientific study, it is near impossible to detect a malevolent human effect on hurricanes, including that therefore of President Trump on Harvey, Irma & Co., as much as that would satisfy a hairbrained fantasy, vaudevillian Hunger Games plot consistent with contemporary Hollywood pseudo-politics:

“Therefore, we conclude that despite statistical correlations between SST (sea surface temperatures) and Atlantic hurricane activity in recent decades, it is premature to conclude that human activity  – and particularly greenhouse warming – has already caused a detectable change in Atlantic hurricane activity”.

The article here recommended, by Graham Lloyd, can be easily found online on the website of The Australian entitled, “Hurricanes like Irma and Harvey are not caused by climate change”

Carl J. Kieck, Independent International Educational & Social Research & Consultation Services … CONTINUED …

Carl J. Kieck is an Independent International Social and Educational Researcher and Consultant, primarily, and is currently involved in several long-term research projects. Originally from South Africa, he works internationally, thereby finding stimulation to developing new insights and broadening his horizons, undertaking work in primary, secondary and tertiary education, as well as many other areas, as a contractual, temporary or part-time teacher, lecturer and researcher. Within his many areas of expertise are (a) filmic and/or cinematic research and analysis, in most genres, encompassing various national and cultural traditions, both contemporary and historical and (b) news/reporting/media/broadcasting research and analysis.

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