Foreign Policy Blogs

The Climate of Opinion

A study, Extreme Weather, Climate & Preparedness in the American Mind, just out from the excellent Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and its partner, the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, purports that “A large majority of Americans believe that global warming made several high profile extreme weather events worse…”  Coverage in the NY Times reported that the respondents in the study attributed climate change as the cause of heat waves, the unusually warm winter we’ve just experienced, and the record US snowfalls of 2010 and 2011 and Mississippi River floods of 2011.  Anthony A. Leiserowitz of Yale, one of the lead researchers, said:  “People are starting to connect the dots.”  ( is organizing a global event next week:  “Climate Impacts Day” to connect the dots.)

Meanwhile, a paper published yesterday in the prestigious journal Science, looks at data from the fifty years between 1950 and 2000 on ocean salinity patterns and reports the expression of “…an identifiable fingerprint of an intensifying water cycle.”  What does that mean?  The NY Times article on the paper says the findings in the paper imply “…that the water cycle could quicken by as much as 20 percent later in this century as the planet warms, potentially leading to more droughts and floods.”  An accompanying article in the same issue of Science is titled The Greenhouse Is Making the Water-Poor Even Poorer.  Here’s the bottom line on the science:  “Theory and models predict that a strengthening greenhouse will increase precipitation where it is already relatively high and decrease it where it is already low.  A new study of the ocean’s changing salinity …confirms that this mechanism of water-cycle amplification has been operating for the past half-century.”

The science is, yet again, being proven by extensive data.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued preliminary findings from its Special Report for Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) last fall.  I reported here at the time that the report “…enumerates a number of key themes, including that climate extremes have been well documented, along with various kinds of attendant weather anomalies, and that these are going to get worse.”  (See this video from the SREX.)

One further note:  The apparently beautifully prepared documentary series running now, Frozen Planet, is devoted to a comprehensive look at conditions in the Arctic and Antarctic.  It explores the wildlife, the people and the increasingly difficult conditions relative to warming that they are experiencing.  However, the series seems to studiously avoid the obvious factor of climate change in producing these dire effects for the denizens of the Earth’s poles and, for that matter, for the whole planet.  This article from the NY Times last week, No Place for Heated Opinions, quotes Anthony Leiserowitz  of Yale:  “Many organizations, and it sounds like Discovery is one of them, appear to be more afraid of being criticized by climate change ‘dismissives’ than they are willing to provide information about climate change to the large majority of Americans who want to know more about it.”  Bill McKibben, of, had an even more stringent take:  “It’s kind of like doing a powerful documentary about lung cancer and leaving out the part about the cigarettes.”  Ouch.

  • njcons

    And yet this study becomes at least the third report that concludes that there has been no increase whatsoever in the intensity of flooding events… “Despite common perceptions”.

  • Bill Hewitt

    You are, in this instance, right. The SREX does not correlate floods, per se, with observed changes in climate. The data, at present, appears to be too thin to make that conclusion. (See Section 3.5.2 here: However, the IPCC does conclude that there are more numerous and more intense heavy precipitation events, as well as more heat waves, and more frequent and intense droughts. (see the SPM here:

  • njcons

    Bill, you said:

    “However, the IPCC does conclude that there are more numerous and more intense heavy precipitation events”………………………………………

    The study I cited concludes that there has been no increase (in fact a decrease) in intense flooding events. That was my point. At least three studies in the past 7 years have found the same thing.

  • Bill Hewitt

    I got your point the first time. There is a difference, however, between floods and heavy precipitation. The evidence is abundant for the latter. The data is insufficiently complete for the IPCC to conclude that floods are, you’ll forgive the pun, on the rise. The IPCC is, in reality, more conservative than you think you are. They are not going to pull out every possible stop and torture language and logic in order to make a political point.

  • njcons

    Bill you said:………..

    “The IPCC is, in reality, more conservative than you think you are. They are not going to pull out every possible stop and torture language and logic in order to make a political point. “……………………………………………………..

    Bill, don’t be so naïve. The IPCC is a political body. That’s all they do is make political points. And the errors found in their reporting (Himalayan Glacier melt, African crop yields, mis-use of the Muir-Russell graphics, Amazon forest loss, Netherlands sea levels, etc., all fall on the alarmist side. It is statistically impossible for all of the errors to fall in favor of the alarmist arguments by chance. Open your eyes friend.

  • Bill Hewitt

    The IPCC is a political body. I guess you haven’t looked at who the scientists are who’ve been doing the analyses and how rigorous the process is. Take a look:

    I love this letter from the other day from the NY Times (Commie rag that it is): “Let’s say you had a fire in your house. It is your most important possession, and you feel that it is irreplaceable. You want to find out what caused the fire, so you hire 100 expert fire investigators to investigate and report to you. Ninety-seven of them tell you virtually the same thing: the fire was caused by faulty wiring, and if you don’t invest in upgrading the wiring you will almost certainly have another fire — and the next one could destroy your house. Three of the experts tell you that you don’t have to do anything, and you shouldn’t worry about it at all. What would you do?”

  • njcons

    And then you find that the 97 weren’t necessarily experts at all but rather they all went to the same electrical training school and instinctively believe that all problems are caused by faulty wiring. In fact your request for experts was never sent to those expert in insulation, carpenty, heating/cooling systems and appliance maintenance. You later find that the 97 predicted that 6 other houses in your neighborhood would burn down in the next 10 years due to faulty wiring. Those predictions were made 15 years ago and not a single house burnt down. Further, you find that those 97 manipulated some of the data on those six houses and privately lament that they have no clue why the houses didn’t burn down.

    With that track record….I think I’ll either stick with the three or go out and find some experts who are interested in protecting my house, and not their lucractive electrician businesses.

  • Bill Hewitt

    Wow. It’s your funeral. Thankfully, most of the world’s policy makers are sufficiently rational to want to at least try to address the reality here. (You can have the last word as I know you want it.)

  • njcons

    Well I’m certainly not going to put my fate in the hands of those who have been proven to be wrong in the past…and who have admitted to not knowing why they have been so wrong (Kevin trenberth of climategate fame).

    And if the policymakers are “at least trying to address the reality here”…I certainly hope they start with the reality of the temperature record that the 97 have provided us….

    ….as it shows no statistically significant warming over the past 16 years.


Bill Hewitt
Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change