Explorations: Hurricanes and Climate Change
On April 11, 2008, the Houston Chronicle ran a story by Eric Berger with the headline “Hurricane Expert Reconsiders Global Warming’s Impact,” which makes a major point about the loud public debate during the busy 2005 hurricane season and later over whether global warming is creating stronger and more frequent hurricanes.
In his April 12 Dot Earth Blog post, Andrew Revkin, of the New York Times, made a comment that applies not only to the debate over global warming and hurricanes but to most contentious scientific issues: “Science is a trajectory toward understanding, not a set of truths. Sometimes that can be inconvenient, whether writing a headline or advocating for a climate bill.”
While the balance of the evidence (not any one breakthrough study) has convinced most scientists who specialize in climate that humans are responsible for a significant part of the earth’s average overall warming since the middle of the twentieth century, the evidence so far isn’t as convincing on how this warming should affect tropical cyclones.
One of the goals of The AMS Weather Book is to help readers understand the basic science underlying big important questions, such as how a warmer earth might affect tropical cyclones, not follow current debates blow by blow.
Chris Mooney’s book Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle over Global Warming (Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2007) does follow the warming and hurricanes debate into 2007, including a great deal of historical and scientific background that helps put the debate in context. In its review of Mooney’s book, The RealClimate: Climate Science from Climate Scientists blog says: “Those looking for a polemic (the title of Mooney’s previous book, after all, was The Republican War on Science) will be disappointed. Mooney has clearly matured as a writer, and this latest book constitutes his best effort to date. He delivers a thoughtful, nonpartisan, and scientifically and historically accurate review of the emergent science exploring the potential influence of climate change on hurricanes.”
The review makes an important point that should be kept in mind when reading stories about any branch of science: “… one should be very careful about giving too much weight to any one late-breaking paper. Where there are certainly exceptions where paradigms are dramatically broken on the strength of one ground-breaking paper, science rarely works that way. Instead, scientific understanding generally advances slowly and steadily, based on the results of many independent studies.”