Professor Katharine Hayhoe spoke on “Climate and Faith in the Public Arena” in her John Stott London Lecture November 16. Like Dr. Hayhoe, I’m a climate scientist; like her, I’m a Christian; like her, I care about my neighbors and want to protect them from harm; and like her, and I’m committed to stewardship of God’s wonderful creation.
Nonetheless, for these very reasons I cannot help questioning some of what she has said about climate change.
In announcing the lecture, A Rocha International’s Reverend Dave Bookless said, “Climate change is constantly in the global news, with increasingly extreme weather events displacing communities and causing destruction.” Those words reflect Dr. Hayhoe’s.
In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Dr. Hayhoe stated on CNN’s GPS with Fareed Zakaria that “climate change is amping up heat waves, wildfires, droughts, and hurricanes” and that we should expect to see more intense hurricanes like Harvey and Irma.
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season has indeed been very active, with six major hurricanes — two making landfall in the United States — but contrary to common claims, it was far from unprecedented.
Indeed, extreme climate events are becoming neither more intense nor more frequent. Diagnostic tools that chart the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones globally and regionally — such as their number and the energy associated with them — show a cyclic pattern to hurricane activity but no long-term trend.
When Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Houston, it ended a record 4,323 days without a major hurricane (category 3–5) landfall in the United States. Fourteen category 4 or 5 hurricanes made landfall in the United States in the 44-year period between 1926 and 1969, but only four in the 48 years since.
Contrary to Dr. Hayhoe’s implicit assumption that rising global average temperature causes more and stronger hurricanes, colder periods in the historical climate record for New England and South Carolina show more frequent hurricane landfalls.
And while the North Atlantic basin was active this year, premier weathercaster Joe Bastardi of WeatherBell Analytics commented that he could not remember seeing the North Pacific without any tropical cyclone activity in the height of the hurricane (typhoon) season (i.e., mid-September), as it was this year.
In short, no upward trend currently exists in the climate record of hurricane activity in either frequency or intensity….