Averting Disasters

In his Berlin speech on Wednesday, President Obama touched on the topic of human-caused climate change and promised “we will do more” to address the issue—presumably by reducing our carbon dioxide emissions at a pace faster than we already are.

What he hopes to achieve by this is unclear, as I have shown that the pace of U.S. emissions reduction has virtually no impact on the future rate of global warming.

President Obama, too, seems to realize a broader effort would be required, as he said “[w]ith a global middle class consuming more energy every day, this must now be an effort of all nations, not just some.”

Without such action, the president asserts that we will face a “grim alternative”—“more severe storms, more famine and floods, new waves of refugees, coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise.”

But even with global action, it is far from scientifically clear that the result of reducing climate change will be a net positive.

I can hardly blame the president for not realizing this, or for not being overly aware of the benefits of global warming.  And I am not talking about the well-known boost to the planet’s plant life (including food crops), but potential direct effects on weather and climate.

These potential benefits are rarely, if ever, discussed by federal entities from which, presumably, the president gets his information. These federal entities are, however, quite adept at describing potential bad things resulting from climate change.

As an example of the emphasis of bad over good, read a few pages of the latest version of the government’s report from the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee. Or, to save some time, read our comments on that report that point out how unbalanced and pessimistic the report really is.

Another example can be found in the government’s compilation of “Billion Dollar Weather/Climate Disasters” in the United States each year. The final numbers for 2012 were released last week—causing a media stir—and described 11 events individually causing greater than $1 billion in damages and collectively causing a total of more than $110 billion in losses.

Since the government doesn’t take into account either our growing population or the growing amount of stuff in harm’s way, the number of billion dollar “disasters” and the total losses from such events shows a steady upward progression since the compilations first began in 1980.

Despite these methodological shortcomings, many folks are quick to blame anthropogenic climate change for the rise, suggesting that all manner of extreme weather events are “consistent with” expectations from global warming such as “more severe storms, famines, and floods.”

But what is not included in the government’s list, or any other, is a compilation of billion dollar weather/climate events that were averted for reasons “consistent with” global warming.

I hope to remedy this situation.

In a post over at Master Resource, I have assembled the beginnings of a list of potential “billion dollar weather/climate disasters” during the past year that failed to materialize for scientifically valid reasons that were entirely “consistent with” expectations from anthropogenic climate change. This list includes hurricanes, snowstorms, tornadoes, spring freezes, etc. The list is almost certainly incomplete, because there are undoubtedly many more events that we could never know about because they didn’t happen.

My guess is that for every billion-dollar weather disaster identified as being “consistent with” human-caused global warming, there are probably several other potential billion-dollar weather disasters that human-caused global warming averted.

Isn’t it about time we start hearing about these?

If a more scientifically complete and accurate story were being told by the federal government, President Obama almost certainly would not be considering using executive powers or Environmental Protection Agency regulations to restrict our energy choices. Instead, a more balanced and open discussion would be taking place that recognized not only the cons but also the pros of human-caused climate change and the energy choices that are largely responsible for it. If that were to occur, smarter policy would hopefully be the result.