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How would you tell?

06 Sep 2023 | OP ED Watch

This just in: “Why do floods follow drought? Scientists show climate change is fuelling more ‘sudden shifts’”. Which is problematic given that if there’s a drought, alarmists say climate change caused it, and if there’s a flood, alarmists say climate change caused it, and if there are both or neither ditto. And because they often fail to check those boring historical records to see whether a place has typically been prone to either or both. But now “Scientists show”. It’s all over. Or is it? Well, no, because, well, they basically took a very short time period, cherry-picked a place, and yelled about a trend. Whereas real science, as increasingly opposed to “climate science”, tests hypotheses against robust evidence and seeks counterexamples before popping the corks or, in this case, tolling the funeral bell.

The piece, in Euronews.green, leads off with “Wild weather swings from severe drought to heavy rains are becoming more common with climate change, new research has found.” And before going further we will remind you that one of the ways such people play fast-and-loose with evidence is on the question of whether some terrible thing will be caused by climate change, already has been, or both. But now let’s get “granular”, to use a trendy word, about the substance of this claim or feeble lack thereof:

“A team of scientists looked at data from 1980 to 2020 to analyse this trend. Depending on the location, the likelihood of a sudden shift from drought to dangerous downpours increased from 0.25 per cent to 1 per cent during this time period. They say Europe is one of the seven regional hotspots around the world where this trend is getting worse.”

You see the problem? Or rather problems? So why didn’t they?

First, taking 1980 to 2020 sounds reasonable if you think that’s all the data we have, or that climate change only started to hit 40 years ago. But the IPCC does not place the start of climate change at 1980, so even if you did think it had, you’d want to look at data from, say, 1900 to 2020 to check whether these things were stable for the first 80 years and then accelerated. Because if not, all you’re seeing is natural variability in which a place seems to get this weird alternation for a while and then it stops. And yes, nobody in their right mind thinks we have sufficient data for most of the world to have the slightest idea whether it’s more likely to have a dry spell yield to sudden rain today than it was in 1922.

Mind you, that shift from 0.25 to 1 per cent is too small to escape the error bars. Of course it could be described as quadrupling. Though the actual figure in the study is from “0.24 to 1.03% per year” which sounds more scientific because of the decimal places until you stop and think wait a minute, they think they measured that globally there was a 0.24% chance of a “drought and pluvial transition” when Jimmy Carter was president and now it’s 1.03%? Also the paper doesn’t define either term, which you probably should if you’re trying to estimate to .03 percent how often one turns into the other. And it doesn’t use the word “dangerous”; the journalist just invented that bit, perhaps drawing on her Oxford B.A. in English Language and Literature.

Which isn’t to say there’s no math in the paper. For instance it says:

“In this study, we assess the joint probabilities of extreme soil moisture−precipitation at different thresholds. For example, to assess the joint probability of drought (soil moisture (SM) below the 15th percentile) and next pentad pluvial (precipitation (P) above the 85th percentile), the probability of such a compound event can be calculated as p=P(u<0.15∩v>0.85)=P(u<0.15)−P(u<0.15∩v≤0.85)=0.15−C(0.15,0.85)”

Moreover under “Calculation and decomposition of moisture convergence” it asserts that:

“Atmospheric moisture convergence (MC) is calculated as the negative divergence of vertically integrated moisture flux over the pressure (P) from the top of the atmosphere (P = 0) to the surface (P = Ps) MC=−1ρwg∇⋅∫ps0(uq)dp where ρw is the density of water, g is the acceleration due to gravity, ∇ is the horizontal divergence operator, u is the horizontal vector wind and q is specific humidity.”

The trouble is that mathematics has an “if-then” component, namely that if the inputs are relevant to the real world and if the relationships are as posited, then the result has real-world meaning. Otherwise it’s clever, and technically rigorous, but irrelevant.

We might also remind you that at the 2016 London premiere of his oeuvre on climate, Before the Flood, Leonardo DiCaprio, declared that his home town of Los Angeles was seeing “a massive, unprecedented drought that will not reverse itself”. Every bit of which was wrong except that there was a drought. But it didn’t bring him scorn or opprobrium from the usual suspects including over his being “not a climate scientist” or some such cheap shot. Even though it promptly rained.

Undaunted, or untutored, the Euronews.green article also prated that as an example of places suddenly having weather, “California, for example, was facing its worst drought in a millennium in 2022. Then, during the first three months of 2023, heavy rains caused record flooding.” Rubbish. It had worse droughts in the 19th century, as we have documented, including the one in 1864-65 that was so bad it basically wiped out all the cattle in southern and central California, that an observer said for years afterward “the traveler for years afterward was often startled by coming suddenly on a veritable Golgotha – a place of skulls”. And what was the one DiCaprio thought would never end, chopped liver?

Mind you everything now is the worst ever, like the “megadrought” in Arizona that’s been going on for, brace yourself, “about two decades” and according to NBC “Ecologists are concerned the heat wave is pushing some of the plants best adapted to the region’s hot, dry summers past their limits.” Unlike that minor thing back in the 12th and 13th centuries that drove away the Anasazi. On whom Wikipedia, while falling all over itself to be woke about “Ancestral Puebloans” as they are now called, blurts out suddenly that “The archaeological record indicates that for Ancestral Puebloans to adapt to climatic change by changing residences and locations was not unusual.”

Back then anyway. Today it would be called a crisis.

One comment on “How would you tell?”

  1. I'm sure Leo was so concerned about drought at that London premier.And afterwards promptly hoped on his private jet to join his supermodel friends on his yacht somewhere in a sunny clime.Perhaps LA?

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