More on disasters
May 5, 2011
Bishop Hill in Climate: Houghton, Climate: WG2

Anthony Watts has picked up the Houghton quotes story, and I thought it was worth expanding on what makes me uneasy about these links between disasters and global warming.

It seems clear to me that the original misquoted version hinted that Sir John was in favour of inventing catastrophes. His true words don't carry anything of that meaning.

The question then become one of whether his true words suggest creating links between disasters and global warming. Again, I'm not sure they do. A commenter here points out the rest of the quote in which Sir John says

It’s like safety on public transport. The only way humans will act is if there’s been an accident.

So he is discussing human nature and not making an explicit call for people to create links between disasters and climate change. If we look at, say, this interview Sir John, he correctly refuses to make an explicit link between Hurricane Katrina and global warming

GoCarbonFree: Do you think it will take some events on the scale of Hurricane Katrina for the world to really wake-up to global warming and for concerted action to take place?

Sir John Houghton: Well, certainly events like Katrina help to wake people up, but it’s uncertain how much of the blame for Katrina you can put on global warming per se. I was in New Orleans earlier this year...

What bothers me is the idea that Hurricane Katrina or any other hurricane could be used to wake people up to the idea of global warming or to make them demand climate change legislation. My (admittedly inexpert) understanding of the impact of global warming on hurricanes is that because the poles are expected to warm the most, the temperature difference between poles and equator will be reduced and there will be less energy to transport between them. In other words there will be fewer, weaker hurricanes.

If this is correct, why should a hurricane wake people up to the idea of global warming? Surely it should do the opposite? Isn't it the current lack of hurricanes that should be waking people up to global warming.

I can see the headlines now: "Long period of mild weather is proof of global warming"

Do you think it will sell?

(In related news, Steven Goddard notes that an 1970s surfeit of tornadoes was put down to global cooling)

Article originally appeared on (
See website for complete article licensing information.