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TNR Peddles Discredited Science

9:38 PM, May 9, 2008 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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On the Environment & Energy blog run by our good friends at the New Republic, Josh Patashnik defends Al Gore's unverifiable claim that the severity of Cyclone Nargis "might be associated with continued global warming."

Patashnik's first mistake is to call the storm a typhoon--three times. There are no typhoons in the Bay of Bengal, just cyclones. This is a relatively minor point, but when one mangles even the most basic facts in defending the proposition that warming has led to more intense tropical storms, it does imply a general ignorance of the subject matter.

The second mistake is far more revealing though. Patashnik writes:

The question to ask is, given that a typhoon developed in the Bay of Bengal this year, is there a good chance it would have been less intense in an alternate world with an atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of 280 parts per million? That is, have hurricanes becomes more intense, on balance, as the world has warmed? And the answer to that question is almost certainly yes.

That last link goes to a story from 2005, and the thing about climate science is, it changes pretty fast--thus the need to avoid ascribing "certainty" to any claim. The link points us to the work of Kerry Emanuel, whose controversial research concluded that "the duration and strength of hurricanes have increased by about 50 percent over the last three decades." The problem here is that Emanuel has since backed away from that conclusion.

Just last month, Emanuel told the New York Times that "The big increase in hurricane power over the past 30 years or so may not have much to do with global warming." Further, he told the Houston Chronicle, "There's still a lot of uncertainty in this problem." So while Patashnik may feel that the answer to this question is "almost certainly yes," the very researcher he's citing would almost certainly disagree.