Posts tagged with: Meteorology

hot_temperature_41During his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama talked about climate change and claimed, “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.”

Obama was basing his statement on a press release by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). According to the NASA data collected from more than 3,000 weather stations around the globe, “The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880.” Climate change skeptics pushed back by questioning the accuracy of the report (more on that below) which invariably led to push back on the claims of the skeptics.

For instance, Marcelo Gleiser, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, wrote for NPR that “Clearly, the scientists in charge know what they are doing.”

Dr. Gleiser is a scientist, not a journalist, so such a silly appeal to expertise can be excused.* But many journalists, like everyone else, seem to have the same “experts must know” reaction to such claims. The problem is that there isn’t much evidence the experts even know what true global temperatures are—or that they can even acquire such data with any precision.

Before you dismiss me as a “skeptic” let me clarify what sort of skeptic I am so that you can dismiss my viewpoint for the right reasons.

I’m not an anthropomorphic climate change skeptic; I’m agnostic on the question of whether mankind is heating up the planet (though I’d be surprised if we didn’t have some effect). What I am a skeptical about—closer to an outright “denialist”—is the idea that global surface temperatures can be measures with any precision.

Let me explain the reasons why and then I’ll discuss why it matters.

Hurricane IkeAfter 6,712 cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes the evidence is clear: Bastiat was right all along.

In 1850, the economic journalist Frédéric Bastiat introduced the parable of the broken window to illustrate why destruction, and the money spent to recover from destruction, is not actually a net benefit to society (see the video at the end of this post for an explanation of the broken window fallacy). For most people the idea that destruction doesn’t help society would seem too obvious to warrant mentioning. But some liberal economists argue that destruction can lead to an economic boom, mainly because it provides the government with an opportunity to spend more money.

If the liberal economists are right, then we should find that destructive storms lead to economic growth. But a pair of researchers, Solomon M. Hsiang and Amir S. Jina, have recently published a study that shows the exact opposite. Using meteorological data, they reconstructed every country’s exposure to the 6,712 cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes that occurred during 1950-2008 and then measured the long-term growth:

More than a billion dollars has already been pledged to relieve victims of the drought-turned-famine ravaging the Horn of Africa. The stricken countries—Somalia in particular—do not have the technology and the infrastructure to deal with a major drought, and so in what is becoming a regular occurrence, the West is stepping in with aid.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Texas and Oklahoma are suffering record droughts that are wiping out crops and taxing cattle businesses. Ranchers cannot rely on the forage feeding their herds are used to, and other sources of feed have become too costly; Texas A&M is advising cattlemen that this drought is so severe they will probably be better off selling their entire herds and rebuilding in a better year.

Unless you live in Al Gore’s head, these droughts have not been caused by governmental policy. But governmental policy causes much of the associated suffering. The PowerBlog has been covering the legacy that decades of colonialist humanitarian policy have left in East Africa. U.S. and European agricultural policy continue to cripple farmers in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia.

Fortune, as it turns out, has a sense of irony: the same protectionism that is inducing atrophy overseas is hurting ranchers in America. The Bush-era free trade agreements that the Obama Administration refuses to allow a vote on, and other treaties which it might pursue if it weren’t beholden to big labor, would give the beef industry breathing room—foreign markets for beef could tip the cost-benefit scales back in cattlemen’s favor.

Southwestern cattlemen do benefit from a relatively large market in the United States: there are parts of the country where cattle are economically viable this year, so the Texas plains won’t be littered with sun-bleached skulls next year, but whole herds are still headed to the auction block because the Teamsters and other organizations won’t allow otherwise.

In South Korea for example, the market for U.S. beef could increase by as much as $1.3 billion if the 40 percent tariff now in place fell away, but that free trade agreement is sitting in the bottom of a drawer in the Resolute Desk. South American trade agreements also languish at the behest of unions, while the United States’ NAFTA games threaten existing economic activity.

I’ve not even mentioned U.S. ethanol policy, dust regulations, and the host of other laughable environmental protections that lose most of their humor value during a drought-of-the-century. The greatest statesmen counter the vicissitudes of Fortune by their leadership. Modern progressives, on the other hand, have managed to augment her swings.