Pakistan on my mind

by Judith Curry and Peter Webster

The 2010 Pakistan floods began in July 2010 following following a series of heavy monsoon rains in the northern part of the country.

As the flood waters extended across the country, as much as 20% of Pakistan’s total land area was under water at the flood peak. While the impacts of the floods are still being assessed, the following impacts have been gleaned from the Wikipedia. It is estimated that over two thousand people have died and over a million homes have been destroyed, and more than twenty million people are injured or homeless as a result of the flooding. Officials estimate the total economic impact to be as much as USD $43B, with structural damages estimated to exceed USD $4B. It is estimated that floods have damaged 2,433 miles of highway and 3,508 miles of railway, and Pakistan’s power infrastructure has sustained substantial damages.  Floodwaters destroyed and estimated 700,000 acres of cotton, 200,000 acres each of rice and cane, 500,000 tons of wheat, 300,000 acres of animal fodder, and 200,000 herd of livestock. In addition, household effects, farming equipment and stock seed were lost. Many farmers will be unable to meet the fall deadline for planting new seeds in 2010, implying a massive loss of local food production in 2011. Flood victims are at risk from gastroenteritis, diarrhea, and skin diseases, and flooding compounds the problem of cholera. Mines and artillery shells have been flushed downstream by the floods and scattered in low-lying areas, posing a future risk to returning inhabitants.  The destruction wrought by the 2010 floods could set Pakistan back years or even decades, weaken its struggling civilian administration and add to the burdens on its military, distracting from their efforts to keep the Taliban in check.

The short-term issues are humanitarian, but the longer-term issue presents a global security imperative.  Can the international climate community offer something to help Pakistan, other than a debate over whether global warming contributed to the floods and a mistake in the IPCC AR4 regarding the melting of the Himalayan glaciers?


Attribution to global warming?

Most of the response of the climate research community to this catastrophe has focused on the attribution of the floods, i.e. whether greenhouse warming played any role in causing the floods.  As summarized by AOL News, the following statements have been made by UN representatives:

IPCC chief Rachendra Pachauri stated that while it would be scientifically incorrect to link any single set of events with human-induced climate change,

“the floods of the kind that hit Pakistan may become more frequent and more intense in the future in this and other parts of the world.”

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) made the following statement:

“While a longer time range is required to establish whether an individual event is attributable to climate change, the sequence of current events matches IPCC projections of more frequent and more intense extreme weather events due to global warming.”

WMO director Ghassem Asrar said that higher Atlantic Ocean temperatures contributed to the intense monsoon rains that precipitated the flooding in Pakistan:

“There’s no doubt that clearly the climate change is contributing, a major contributing factor.”

Kevin Trenberth has gone further, to state:

“What we can say is that certain events would have been extremely unlikely to have occurred without global warming, and that includes the Russian heat wave and wildfires, and Pakistan, Chinese and Indian floods.”

The Islamic Bloc has been forthright in blaming the Pakistan floods on global warming. The Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) stated:

“We have to act instantly and decide on the best way forward to support Pakistan which has been struck by the effects of global warming and climate change. Indeed, the Islamic World is paying a heavy price, resulting from the negative repercussions of climate change.”

Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, stated

“All these events are constant reminders to governments that they need to deal in a consummate manner together to address climate change.”

Apart from the issue of whether or not we can attribute a portion of a particular extreme weather event to global warming (this will be the topic of a future post), exactly what is the point of even trying to do so?  Suppose for the sake of argument that an attribution study determined that 5% of Pakistan’s floodwaters could be attributed to global warming.  Well, 95% of a catastrophe is usually still a catastrophe, unless that 5% was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  Not only is the attribution exercise pointless in our opinion, but it is actually counterproductive in that it distracts from the reality at hand and diverts the efforts of the meteorological and climate communities from actually doing something that might be helpful.

A closer look at the causes of the catastrophe

During an active phase of the monsoon through July 2010, three periods of intense rainfall covered north and northwest Pakistan. Heavy monsoon rains exceeded 10 inches in some locations over the period July 27-30. However, Pakistan water experts believe that poor land management, outdated irrigation systems, and logging are at least as much to blame as the rainfall.

Illegal logging supported by the Taliban in the northwest province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has felled as much as 70% of the forest in some districts.  The lack of trees, combined with overgrazing by livestock, reduces the soil’s ability to hold water and leads to soil erosion.  Flash flooding in the northern, mountainous areas then sends silt downstream, reducing the amount of water the river channel can hold.  Diverting the Indus through irrigation channels has encouraged people to build closer to or even in the river channel. Many of the irrigation channels are built using techniques from the 18th century.

Whereas prominent Pakistani politicians, TV anchorpersons, and Punjab water engineers have stated that the catastrophe would not have occurred had the Kalabagh dam had been built, the Climate Himalaya Initiative argues that engineering structures and human error may have played a major role in the catastrophe. There are a substantial number of barrages (dams) on the Indus River that support irrigation and hydropower.  The flood occurred when the rising river bed (owing to the huge silt deposition in the upstream areas) was trapped by the Taunsa barrage, obstructing the water flow. These heavy silt loads were then transported through western tributaries of the Indus River. Construction of protective levees and dykes has also contributed to raising the riverbed and the sedimentation of upstream areas; moreover, the rising riverbed levels have rendered protective levees ineffective. A rehabilitation project raised the crust level of the barrage by one foot so that silt entry into the right bank canal could be controlled; however the protective embankments were also to be raised by a foot but this was not done. Further, local accounts and media reports suggest that the barrage staff has failed to properly operate the newly installed motorised hoisting system. It has been reported 10 gates were not fully opened; the Climate Himalaya Initiative argues that this human failure, if true, could have been the main cause of the flood disaster.

Clearly, the situation is complex and further investigations are required to sort all this out.

Pakistan Meteorology

The summer of 2010 produced Pakistan’s worst flooding in 80 years. A perspective on this flood in the context of other natural disasters striking Pakistan can be found here.  Severe floods were also seen in 1988, 1992 and 1995.  Pakistan’s Flood Forecasting Division was established in 1978 with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  An observational system supports measurement of discharge in the canals and also measurements of rainfall and snow melt in the catchment areas of the Indus.  Quantitative precipitation measurement is supported by two precipitation radars in key locations of the catchment.  A river routing model tracks river discharge and two day flood forecasts are provided each day. On June 21, the Pakistan Meteorological Department’s monsoon forecast cautioned that urban and flash flooding could occur from July to September in the north parts of the country.  The initial flooding in the north was not predicted, although the subsequent downstream flooding was forecast a day or two in advance by the river routing model.

Challenges facing Pakistan

The events of the last two months not withstanding, Pakistan’s primary challenge has been drought and inadequate water resources. Pakistan frequently experiences droughts, along with most of southwest Asia.  A severe drought at the national scale occurred during the period 1999-2002. Pakistan’s worst regional droughts have been: Punjab Province in 1899, 1920 and 1935; North-West Frontier Province in 1902 and 1951; and Sindh Province in 1871, 1881, 1899, 1931, 1947 and 1999. The most severe drought at the national scale ocurred during the period 1999-2002.

Water resources in Pakistan are exacerbated by its large population, which exceeds 170M, making it the world’s sixth most populous country.  Pakistan’s population growth rate peaked around 1960, and has since declined to an annual growth rate of about 1.55% owing to declining fertility and birth rates; nevertheless Pakistan’s population is expected to exceed 200M by 2020. Water from the Indus is withdrawn for agriculture, industry and daily living to such an extent that the river is all but dry by the time it reaches the Arabian Sea.

A combination of lessening water flow, increasing population and economic development  are contributing to a pending water crisis in Pakistan. The availability of water in Pakistan has declined from 5,000 cubic meters per capita 60 years ago to 1,200 cubic meters per capita in 2009. By 2020, the availability of water is estimated to diminish to about 800 cubic meters per capita.  Transboundary water disputes with India have exacerbated these concerns.

Under the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, India is not permitted to build dams for the purpose of water storage on the Indus, Chenab, and Jhelum rivers, but it is allowed to make limited use of their waters in developing hydroelectric power projects. While the two countries have maintained cooperation for the past 40 years, bilateral talks between the two countries are increasingly focused on water disputes associated with dams being built by India. In 2008 Pakistan accused India of stopping Pakistan’s water from the Chenab River (a tributary of the Indus). Public debate in Pakistan on this issue raises complicated concerns of national security and traditional rivalry with India.  An excellent overview of the situation is provided by Zawahiri (2009).   With regard to the recent floods, it has been alleged that India released water from its dams up river because of fears the dams would collapse because of the excessive rainfall, and so exacerbating the problem in Pakistan.

Looking forward

While climate researchers and policy makers ponder whether the flood can be attributed to global warming, it seems to us that this emphasis diverts attention from actually using climate, meteorological and hydrological knowledge and research in the application of pressing current needs in the developing world.  Substantial benefits would accrue directly for developing countries, as well as indirectly for other countries concerned with global security, by applying advanced research and technologies to support:

  • improved river routing models for major rivers
  • advanced techniques for providing probabilistic flood forecasts on timescales exceeding two days and integration of these forecasts into early warning systems, preparedness and contingency plans, and rehabilitation measures
  • application of advanced dynamical and statistical methods to assess future risk of floods and droughts, and integrate this information into engineering assessments for future water structures
  • improved probabilistic rainfall forecasts on timescales of days to weeks to enable farmers to optimize agricultural decision making regarding planting and harvesting.

Based upon our work in Bangladesh along these lines (see here and here),  we have demonstrated that such developments are feasible and can be successfully integrated into national meteorological and hydrological services.  We have contacted the Pakistan Meteorological Department and have had discussions with relevant personnel in USAID and UNDP regarding how we might help.  The current situation in Pakistan is mired in both national and international politics. However, we hope that the international climate, meteorological and hydrological communities can offer something to help Pakistan other than a debate over whether global warming contributed to the floods and a mistake in the IPCC AR4 regarding the melting of the Himalayan glaciers.

148 responses to “Pakistan on my mind

  1. In principle, it is surely conceivable that there are classes of events that are impossible in the holocene quasi-equilibrium that will become possible either under new equilibria or under the forced transient changes that will likely dominate our foreseeable future.

    This should not distract attention from the urgent need for humanitarian assistance to Pakistan. On this point I totally agree with you.

    But it does affect the program you describe. Under sufficiently rapid climate change, probabilistic and statistical approaches based on a quasi-equilibrium assumption, or an assumption of a quasi-linear perturbation, will simply fail because they are based on an incorrect conceptualization of the problem.

    It is not obvious how to apply theory or computation to determine whether a given severe event falls outside the distribution of events of the holocene or a small perturbation thereto.

    That we lack a clear theory at present doesn’t necessarily mean that such a theory is out of reach, though I don’t claim to have the sophistication myself to come up with one. But the question is meaningful. At what point can we identify an event or a set of events as outside the holocene climate altogether?

    Specifically, the events in central Asia this summer appear to have been extremely unusual, as were the events in Australia in their summer of 2009. (That such outliers appear mostly in the warm season isn’t reassuring.) Can we state that they could never have appeared in an undisturbed climate? At present we can only guess.

    This doesn’t mean attributing 5% of the rainfall to increased column moisture. This means addressing the possibility that the whole dynamical configuration would have been impossible except for new boundary conditions and/or large adjustment transients.

    We don’t know. Interestingly, our guesses seem to align with a general sense of the urgency of policy action. But this is a meaningful scientific question which ought to be addressed independent of our intuitions. Like other questions posed on this site, scientific and otherwise, it should not be framed so as to exclude some classes of conclusion.

    • well put mt.

      Comes the question. Given these uncertainties, and given the even larger uncertainty that we will act globally, and given the heat in the pipeline, what can be done practically on the ground. today. by Pakistan. with our help. One can suggest that practical solutions, local mitigation and adaptation solutions should be the first order of business. Plan on IPCC “scenarios” coming true, plan on global action not being taken in time to prevent or diminish these kinds of events, and ask the question what can Pakistan do today. And then, what can climate scientists do, if anything.

    • Hi Michael,

      The issue is what can be done now. I think we have provided a viable template in Bangladesh of how to forewarn a population about an impending flood. In fact, the precipitation events that produced the flooding in Pakistan could have been forecast at the 5-10 day lead-time and, with an appropriate warning system, lives and property could have been saved. The lives of the people in Pakistan were ruined on time scales of days not on the climate change 100-year time scale. And, based on the statistics of flooding in Pakistan (and India and Bangladesh) this will occur multiple times per generation, well before the slow creep of climate change to have impacts on the climate mean or on extreme events. There are things that we know how to do now that will allow populations to approach the problems of eventual climate change with experience and a stronger economy. I think that acting incrementally with solid solutions makes sense

      I find it frustrating to read statements (e.g., Trenberth) that attribute every catastrophe to climate change, such as the event was 7% more intense because of climate change. Such statements appear to ignore other factors listed in the main post (population, deforestation, water management issues and etc.) Yet, when we find that the tropical cyclone frequency in the North Pacific is less than climatological average values during the last couple of years there is a silence. I believe that these statements lack scientific and statistical rigor and are not defensible. An explanation why climate change attends the increase in intensity of one class of phenomena but does not apply to another is largely absent. I think such statements do not help to raise the intellectual level of the scientific argument regarding climate change.

      I think that the bottom line of our post is that we can do quite a bit with our present knowledge. Careful use of 1-15 day or seasonal forecasts will support more resilient societies to emerge and take on the challenges of climate change.

      • Nicely Put Peter,

        My co author (Tom Fuller) and I find it very frustrating that the debate over AGW seems to work to preclude or prevent concrete action being taken to address known local problems. And the calls to take actions we should take regardless of the debate over AGW are seen by both sides as some sort of surrender on the debate. The “take no prisoners” attitude on both sides only increases misery of real victims. arrg.

      • I disagree with several of Peter’s points.

        I think there are compelling dynamical arguments for the prospect of increased heat transport from tropical storms in hot climates (Sriver and Huber ’07) in addition to the obvious greater availability of energy to feed their genesis. Nobody has made a claim of more storms by count in particular basins, so any evidence on that matter seems not germane to the present question.

        And I strongly doubt that Dr. Trenberth attributes “every” catastrophe to climate change. Such an exaggeration seems more than a little peculiar in a complaint about exaggeration and sloppy language.

        Then there is “An explanation why climate change attends the increase in intensity of one class of phenomena but does not apply to another is largely absent.” So along with an exaggerated claim about exaggeration we find a vague complaint about vagueness! There is no claim to omniscience, as far as I know, but there are real, substantive predictions and so far there is a good track record on them.

        As for “There are things that we know how to do now that will allow populations to approach the problems of eventual climate change with experience and a stronger economy. I think that acting incrementally with solid solutions makes sense ” that is well and good, though it has little bearing on climate science. Still, it would be more useful to say what those things are, and to discuss the extent to which such particular efforts risk being overwhelmed in the future by unmitigated global forcing.

        The key point I made remains unaddressed. Eventually, weather events will likely occur that are outside the holocene distribution of events for practical purposes. Have they occurred already? And in either case, how would we make the judgment? Those are objective, scientific questions with important real-word consequences.

        Surely technical and social resilience are good things. But, if in Asia this year and in Australia last year, we are already seeing serious consequences of climate disruption, that should dramatically swing the balance of evidence in any rational risk weighting.

        The way these matters are discussed in Australia and Russia seems to have changed dramatically. When Pakistan recovers enough to have a say, I expect matters will be the same there. Yet the conversation has not noticeably changed in response to these events outside the affected countries. The fact that attribution of events of this severity to global anthropogenic forcing can’t be easily dismissed ought to matter.

      • Mosher: “(Tom Fuller) and I find it very frustrating that the debate over AGW seems to work to preclude or prevent concrete action being taken to address known local problems. And the calls to take actions we should take regardless of the debate over AGW are seen by both sides as some sort of surrender on the debate.”

        Such a generalization implies the existence of some examples. Can you elaborate?

      • “Yet, when we find that the tropical cyclone frequency in the North Pacific is less than climatological average values during the last couple of years there is a silence. ”

        That could also be due to climate change, but there is silence because it does no harm.

        There’s no reason to assume climate change means “everything gets worse, everywhere”. It seems likely to me that some areas could see a moderating influence instead.

      • Tropical cyclone frequency in the Pacific is less than the “climatological average” is true, but it is not surprising at all.

        This is because of La Nina and colder Pacific conditions than seen during El Nino and neutral summers/falls.

        NOT COMPARED TO NORMAL! Normal is not a scientific term when it comes to tropical cyclone frequency or any other metric.

  2. That was a very good and well written article. Thanks to both the authors.

    I wonder if Peter Webster is the one referenced in this study of historic monsoon patterns?

    Monsoons have been of greater and lesser intensity since the last ice age with a particular period of frequency several thousand years ago. Modern studies reveal no particular trends in its intensity or its failure.

    Rather than blaming climate change I think the authorities need to accept there are a number of man made factors that come into the equation, of which the main one is a vastly increased population living in areas prone to flooding.

    Failure to keep flood defences and related infrastructure in a condition suited to the needs of the increased population are also likely to be a big factor in the scenes we witnessed.

    History shows us of prodigious floods in the past caused by the SO having a dramatic effect over Asia. A little further afield the ‘crocodile’ records of the Nile dating from ancient Egyptian times demonstrate just how variable rainfall can be as this study shows.

    So man is likely to have combined with an unfortunate natural weather pattern in creating this devastation -part of which could have been ameliorated through better management of the water course.

    Perhaps some of the vast resources being devoted to AGW could be better diverted to building the infrastructure to cope with a naturally changing climate, but population and its distribution is also playing a big part.


    • Tony, this is the same Peter Webster.

      • Judith

        It is good to have such an expert on board. The monsoon is a fascinating and well referenced feature of the area and there is no evidence to suggest-as others may do-that it has been precipitated by human input of CO2.


    • Tony,

      The article you append is interesting and points out one of the great frustrations. Note that all of the maps omit Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and just show India. Looking at Indo-centric maps doesn’t allow a portrayakl of the entire monsoon. And hence Pakistan…


      • Peter

        Don’t you think that sometimes politics (and funding streams) gets in the way of a balanced view? India doesn’t like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia doesn’t like Israel etc etc. No doubt- like me-you’ve seen lots of country centred studies and wondered why it doesn’t mention its immediate neigbours!

        This tendancy to look at one part of a picture rather than the whole is of course not confined to Asian nations.

        This is a fine example of a British centred look at a worldwide concern.

        “The Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this year that Nasa scientists believe Britain could face widespread power blackouts and be left without critical communication signals for long periods of time..”

        This was in reference to the damage that would be caused by a major solar storm-as if Britain would be the only one to be caused problems.

        A Carrington event is something I have studied in great detail believing it to be far more likely and potentially far more disruptive than CAGW.

        Perhaps this might be an interesting angle for a future article to explore-

        ‘CAGW-Why focus on this when there are more pressing problems to worry about?”

        Once again, thanks for your input into a high quality article


  3. I am sorry, but the engineering is against you. If you build structures etc. in the flood plain of a river, sooner or later, the river will destroy anything and everything that you have built. Here, in Canada, we know all about this with the Red River, for example. Our government has defined all the flood plains in Canada. There is no prohibition from building in a flood plain, but if you do and you get flooded, the government will not help.

    What the answer is in Parkistan, I have absolutely no idea whatsoever.

    • Concur; having worked extensively in New Orleans before Katarina, much of the devastation had to do with buildings and infrastructure built below sea level in a storm prone area. Even before the hurricane, heavy rains would flood roads and shut down the city.

      It was made worse by sub-par housing built outside the French Quarter that didn’t even meet current building codes. Note that while it’s effects were disastrous, the impact on the French Quarter was minimal. That’s because it was sensibly built on the above sea level portion of the city.

      And despite the destruction, the population nearly rebeled when they announced plans that replacement housing would have to be built to hurricane standards.

  4. Great article, making the greater the points that:

    1) We cannot and never will know what caused the flooding in Pakistan; and
    2) In light of 1) get on with helping the people of Pakistan in order to both limit short term human los and damage, but also long term human loss and damage from the Taliban.

    • fredfriendly writes “1) We cannot and never will know what caused the flooding in Pakistan”

      Of course we know what caused the flooding; it was a lot of rain over a short period of time. It reminds me of an interview with an unsuccessful, candidate for mayor of Ottawa Canada. The reporter asked him why he thought he had lost. He answered “I did not get enough votes”.

      • Very true, I was of course referencing the context of the article – the reason the rains came…

      • Roddy Campbell

        Hang on Jim, I thought the point of the article was that it wasn’t just a lot of rain in a short time, but lots of other factors could have played a part too.

      • Roddy writes “Hang on Jim, I thought the point of the article was that it wasn’t just a lot of rain in a short time, but lots of other factors could have played a part too.”

        That is my point. I regard what happened in Parkistan as just another weather event. It happened; it will happen again. You just cannot afford to live in a flood plain, unless you can prevent the damage which will occur when the flood comes.

  5. Many people want yes or no answers to attribution questions, but in large-scale events like this, there will always be many contributing factors, and some will be more visible and identifiable than others.

    Nonetheless, research and debate about attribution, if done with the proper caveats, is an important part of the process of understanding climate change. I think that it is deplorable that the political process, dysfunctional as it is, may undermine humanitarian contributions. But if we let this dysfunction undermine discussion on attribution, then we are stifling the scientific discourse. I find it odd that some people think such a discussion, rather than the political process, is what is victimizing the people who are suffering as a result of this event.

    I would also point to the 500mb height issue. This is an hypothesis about one way in which climate change can affect weather, specifically extreme events, and in a way where the analysis is not strictly statistical. In the floods involved unusual 500mb altitudes, then there is a potential direct connection that can be analysed.

    • Good point! The meteorological reasons for the floods can be analyzed. Whether or not they will uncover something very strange (i.e., not occurring previously) remains to be seen. Our preliminary analyses show that the North Pakistan rainfall was not unusual: perhaps a 1 in 10 year event (but please wait for a more substantial analysis). But, irrespective or the rarity/commonality of the rainfall, it was forecast by ECMWF 5-10 days in advance, sufficient time to warn and get people and property out of harms way.

  6. Here’s an historic perspective regarding lost lives and floods.

    • From the link:
      Date Location Dead
      1887, September-October Hwang Ho (Yellow) River, China Over 900,000
      1939 North China 500,000
      1642 Kaifeng, Honan Province, China Over 300,000
      1099 England and the Netherlands 100,000
      1287, December 14 The Netherlands 50,000
      1824 Russia 10,000
      1421, November 18 The Netherlands 10,000
      1964, November-December Mekong Delta, South Vietnam 5,000
      1951, August 6-7 Manchuria 4,800
      1948, June Foochow, China 3,500

      These floods look a good deal worse in terms of lives lost. I wonder if the Pakistan flood isn’t really due to global warming after all. Maybe it’s solely due to the other factors others have mentioned in the thread.

      Of the postings so far, this one seems to have little to do with global warming or the related issues.

      • In response to the paragraph “Attibution to global warming?” and in particular to Kevin Trnetberths” extremely unlikely events”. From WUWT commentator:

        marchesarosa says:
        August 22, 2010 at 8:49 am
        “1298: There was a wholesale death of animals. In the same year there was a drought, and the woods and peat bogs burnt.
        1364: Halfway through summer there was a complete smoke haze, the heat was dreadful, the forests, bogs and earth were burning, rivers dried up. The same thing happened the following year . . .
        1431: following a blotting out of the sky, and pillars of fire, there was a drought – “the earth and the bogs smoldered, there was no clear sky for 6 weeks, nobody saw the sun, fishes, animals and birds died of the smoke.
        1735: Empress Anna wrote to General Ushakov: “Andrei Ivanovich, here in St Petersburg it is so smoky that one cannot open the windows, and all because, just like last year, the forests are burning. We are surprised that no-one has thought about how to stem the fires, which are burning for the second year in a row”.
        1868: the weather was murderous. It rained once during the summer. There was a drought. The sun, like a red hot cinder, glowed through the clouds of smoke from the peat bogs. Near Peterhoff the forests and peat workings burnt, and troops dug trenches and flooded the subterranean fire. It was 40 centigrade in the open, and 28 in the shade.
        1875: While in Western Europe there is continual rain and they complain about the cold summer, here in Russia there is a terrible drought. In southern Russia all the cereal and fruit crops have died, and around St Petersburg the forest fires are such that in the city itself, especially in the evening, there is a thick haze of smoke and a smell of burning. Yesterday, the burning woods and peat bogs threatened the ammunition stores of the artillery range and even Okhtensk gunpowder factory.
        1885: (in a letter from Peter Tchaikovsky, composer): I’m writing to you at three o’clock in the afternoon in such darkness, you would think it was nine o’clock at night. For several days, the horizon has been enveloped in a smoke haze, arising, they say, from fires in the forest and peat bogs. Visibility is diminishing by the day, and I’m starting to fear that we might even die of suffocation.”
        Point of all of this is and Jims post is that there have and will continue to be “extreme” weather events. If one was to research local folklore I’m positive many such tragedies have struck all over the world over the millenia.It is a given that AGW could not be responsible in this example 100 – 700 years ago, so the knee-jerk reaction in pointing to AGW is lazy and possibly irresponsible. In terms of preparedness I would support Steven Mosher in adaption policies.

      • KPO’s list of severe weather events in Russia includes one from 1868 in which, though it was 40 degrees C in the sun, it was only 28 degrees C in the shade. This compares unfavourably with the 38 degrees C in the shade in Moscow in the recent Russian heatwave. The 1868 heatwave is described in no less apocalyptic terms than any of the others; so none of the other anecdotal accounts give us any reason to think that those heatwaves were significantly warmer than that of 1868.

        In the opinion of the Russian authorites, an event like the 2010 heatwave had not happened in Russian in at least the last thousand years, fully justifying Trenbirth’s assessment.

  7. “The summer of 2010 produced Pakistan’s worst flooding in 80 years.”

    What caused it 80 years ago. Perhaps a study of the conditions then might shed some light on present events.

  8. *****
    Steven Mosher says:
    September 20, 2010 at 1:57 pm
    well put mt.

    Comes the question. Given these uncertainties, and given the even larger uncertainty that we will act globally, and given the heat in the pipeline, what can be done practically on the ground. today. by Pakistan. with our help. .
    Do climate scientists know where exactly in the (I presume) ocean this “heat” is?

    • does it matter? not for my argument.

      Given the theory, given that people like me who believe in AGW ALSO believe that there is heat in the pipe, given that things will get worse before they better, given that global action has failed miserably, when will people who believe as I do, decide to support local action of mitigation and adaptation.

      So, I figure people like you are going to be against any kind mitigation of potential disasters, regardless of the cause, against any kind of adaptation, regardless of the cause. You would rather argue about the cause, than see the obvious: it makes sense to mitigate and adapt to lessen the damage from extreme events, regardless of the cause. But maybe you’ll surprise me, put the argument about C02 ASIDE and agree : we should look for areas of agreement about handling extreme events. even if that means agreeing with an AGW about something, anything. Same goes for people who thing AGW science is solid.

      • Agree, and what can help drive that is a science establishment and a political norm that treats people with respect and does not manipulate our rather weak animal brains (we are genetically very close to all other mammals, who is surprised a dog runs in a pack – then you shouldn’t be surprised humans do too) – of course I truly believe that is beyond us and our current limited evolution, we are just talkin’ dogs – so…lets dream on and hope we can get better despite our great organic limitations.

      • Mitigation of “potential disasters” comes with opportunity cost, so I probably won’t surprise you when I say I would feel better if you knew where the “heat in the pipe” is. Before we mitigate some event, we should be pretty sure it will happen and I’m not there with global warming. Speculation as to what might happen due to a 6 C/century rise is simple piling more air and cards on a foundation of air and cards. We should be certain the foundation is made of cement and cinder blocks. We should also determine what we can do as the warming happens if it materializes. 6 C/century is a pretty slow rate of rise, so if it happened, we might well be able to adapt to it more cheaply than spending money on speculative potentials. In that case, we would have a lot more certainty what will actually happen since it would be actually happening.

  9. In our local newspaper, the Bucks Free Press, a Pakistani spokesman in charge of donations for flood relief stated that these floods are the worst they have been since 1962. Perhaps you might like to check on what happened in the early 1960s

  10. Pakistan’s problems are cultural and societal. That country is a very loose agglomeration of very disparate tribes. The tribes affected by the flooding are not the same tribes as the ruling class. There is no amount of “climate science” that could possibly cure what ails Pakistan.

    The ruling elites in Pakistan are much more interested in developing a nuclear arsenal and maintaining the corrupt government that favors its elites than they are in improving the infrastructure that would benefit the country overall.

    As far as I am concerned, until they straighten their own sh*t out, they can just sink or swim.

    • Your opinion is very understandable. In the longterm, you’re probably closer to reality than most. But… there’s always a but in this type of agreement… how to help? Where and what constitutes the most intelligent form of help for the masses in dire need today? Simple Red Cross assistance? Sure. Then what?

    • Unfortunately, this is the case in many underdeveloped countries. The government is the main cause of the poverty and all the bad things that come with it. The US can’t overthrow all the governments, but that is what needs to happen. Not that the US should do it, but unless that happens, there isn’t much hope. I don’t see any world body willing to take on dictators. The world bodies seem to just want to take from the rich countries and give it to the governments, not the people, of the poor ones.

  11. One geophysical aspect about the Indian Ocean / Subcontinent should not be ignored if this event is to be put in proper context, and that is huge and unparalleled secular variance in the vertical Z component of the geomagnetic field of the area.
    Here are some numbers:
    1990 GMF-dZ = 0 -20 nT
    2005 GMF-dZ = 100 -120 nT
    No maps for 2010 (available only in 5 year intervals)

  12. Where’s Roger Pielke Sr. on this? Had we focused during the past 20 years on increasing the resiliency at a regional level to impacts, what could we have already accomplished?

  13. Dear Judith and Peter – it is a truly excellent article. The breadth, width and depth of the information you have provided is wonderful. As an aging Geologist, however, with a long view bias – I keep wondering when humanity will understand that we are hitting the wall in certain parts of the globe and as a global community. As sapiens, we should back calculate the size of human population the world can sustain at a first world level to all inhabitants, and then shoot for that developmental target (2 billion, 3 billion people??). Would Pakistan be better off with a population of 50 million, would India be better with a population of 250 million or the USA with a population of 150 million? I believe they would be. It would require vision, and discipline – i.e. two generations of one child per family. I am afraid, however, that it will get very grim, before humanity bites the bullet and lightens up on its possession of the globe. It would be nice to leave some room for other species – other than us, our food and our pets.

    • Thanks Lorne. In many regions of the world, particularly Asia, population increase almost certainly swamps any challenges associated with climate change, and is of course the primary challenge to climate change mitigation.

    • Agree that population increase will swamp climate change as a coming issue – it just doesn’t make as good a speech for Al Gore. The true problem is the families with the largest size are third world families, and those families will have the most problems supporting them and creating the largest global problem possible. More terrorism, more starvation, more wars – all because the first world is worried about a problem in their back yard that may not exist, climate change, instead of spending those billions on their fellow man. Very Republican of us…

      • Fred
        Population has always been the hidden agenda of the Gang of Gore. Cataclysmic Climate Change was only a way to get the attention of the masses, get everyone prepared to hear the worst, and willing to swallow the “hard truth” that will soon follow. It’s definitely in the program, look a little farther down under “What Are Our Options?” And, I wouldn’t project this to a political platform, this is very religious.

    • Who is going to enforce this, and how?

      Are you perhaps arguing for a world government? Complete with people-culling powers?

      Removing >4bn people from the planet is not, in my view, possible without totalitarian ‘government’.

      I actually agree with you on the population question, but by God you should be careful what you wish for.

  14. If the climate community was not dominated by CO2 obsessives, then I am certain there could be some good ideas to help the Pakistanis manage their flood issues better.
    But until we are free from the place where every question is answered ‘CO2’, the climate science community will not really have much to offer that actually helps.

    • Since when did atmospheric researchers and paleoclimatologists become disaster relief workers??

      There is some serious confusion at work here, or some nasty disingenuousness.

      Though what climate research may contribute is to focus minds on better flood mitigation, if the future suggests greater frequency of such events.

    • Then Judith I think you’ve been proposing an ‘either/or’ choice where there is no such constraint.

      The current inadequacies in flood mitigation and disaster response are in no way attributal to climate research, and I think the insinuation is more than a little unfair.

      • Michael, we are on some sort of totally different wavelength here. What I am saying that I think that efforts to attribute the floods to global warming are misguided and misleading; our capabilities to do something like that just aren’t there, and in any event i don’t see that such information would be of practical use. Climate research has contributed nothing to the disaster, this statement makes no sense. What I am saying is that climate research could help in the ways indicated by the bulleted list towards the end of my essay.

      • Judith,

        As far as I can tell, points 1, 2 and 4 in your bulleted list have little if anything to do with climate research; all fall squarely within the domain of weather forecasting. The third one – essentially looking at the impact of global warming on the probability of extreme events such as this flood – is part of current climate research. The problem being that it is a *very* hard problem.

      • Andrew, many of the same people working on the weather models are the same people working on climate models. Especially on the atmospheric side of things, many of the scientists have a foot in both the weather and climate sides of the house (Webster and I are examples of this). There is a big push for a unified treatment of weather and climate models, particularly in the European community (esp ECMWF, UKMO). Climate models wont get extreme events right unless they get the distribution of weather systems right. We (Webster and I) make probabalistic (realtime) forecasts of extreme events (floods, heatwaves, hurricanes) on daily to seasonal timescales. We use models that are of substantially higher resolution than climate models. The distributions of temperature and rainfall provided by ensemble simulations (typically 40-50 for each forecast) often do not even bound the extreme events and the ensemble mean is biased towards a climatological mean and does not capture extreme events. Ensemble dressing techniques and quantile-to-quantile adjustments are used to try to improve the distribution of the ensemble forecast of say temperature in order to have some chance at capturing a heat wave weeks or months in advance. Until we figure out how to do this on the weekly to seasonal time scales, trying to infer extreme events from coarse resolution climate models with insufficient number of ensemble members is like voodoo. If none of this makes sense to you, i will have more extensive posts on these issues forthcoming.

      • Judith your comment here,
        “I would say it is the climate establishment that is spending too much time and resources on the possible 100 year problems at the expense of the problems here and now.”

        made it seem like you were suggesting an either/or scenario.

        It’s clear that we agree on the usefulness of improved forecasting to assist in short term planning. But it would be just as useful to have a better understanding of long-term probabilities, given that it is on this longer time-scale that governments need to make decisions on large-scale infrastructure works.

        There’s no suggestion that this is not a very difficult question, and it’s at an early stage, but then surely that’s what science is for – to take on these sort of challenges.

      • Yes, (part of) the current problems in pollution control, disease, starvation increases, and deaths (from malaria, dengue fever, tsetse fly, etc.) ARE due to the “climate scientists” making undue and improper predictions based on their chosen theory of CO2 = Bad For The World, We Must Control It.

        I can limit flood damage and improve health very simply: But I need
        lower cost energy (you don’t want that),
        lower cost steel and transportation (you are working very hard to make both more expensive),
        more proper and safe rules and less excessive regulation (you want more regulation and more fees and more interferences from very propagandized zealots against work),
        lower costs for electricity, water and fuel (you seek more taxes and rules on all)
        no government corruption (The carbon taxes you want go ONLY to the corrupt third world dictators and NGO profit-seekers who are selling their ENRON-inspired carbon credits, none do anything for the people of each country forced into squalor and death.)

        So, yes, by pushing the CAGW-themed propaganda, we have seen Pelosi here begin the recession we face (higher fuel and restrictions on oil and gas exploration were begun deliberately in 2007 under the CAGW and democrat party banners. The subsequent collapse of the transportation, air, travel, food, auto manufacturing, and support industries led to the financial and housing bubble bursting drop of Sept 2008.

        Give me less expensive power, concrete, and steel. And permission to build. I CAN stop these problems. We HAVE stopped them in other places before you (collectively) interfered. But do you really want me to fix them?

  15. It seems to me that I could quite easily rewrite one of the later paragraphs in the article thus:

    “While climate skeptics gain traction in the media and with policy makers – drawing endless attention to trivial errors (such as an AR4 typo on Himalayan glaciers that was not present in other mentions of the same topic elsewhere in the report), or highlighting media-friendly soundbites from spokespeople and figureheads in as negative a light as possible – it seems to me that this emphasis diverts attention from actually using climate, meteorological and hydrological knowledge and research in the application of pressing current needs in the developing world.”

    Is that a fair assessment?

    • Dave, actually I wouldn’t put the blame on the climate skeptics here, I would say it is the climate establishment that is spending too much time and resources on the possible 100 year problems at the expense of the problems here and now.

      • Many people make this point. But if you focus excessively on the short-term problems, your gains may be short-lived if you are exacerbating the long-term problems at the same time. I’m not saying that this necessarily applies to Pakistan, as it’s problems are vast and deep. But I think that definitely applies to China.

        Those who think we should deal with poverty today and climate change some time in the future have not been following the dynamics of how climate change impacts will develop.

      • agreed


      • Indeed, Dean.

        The argument that we should focus on more pressing short-term issues because the long-term issues are far away/too uncertain/expensive/impossible to deal with comes across as somewhat Lomborgian.

        I’d also say it is unsound to make sociopolitical/economic arguments based on a differing opinion of a broad scientific assessment. If you downplay the issues highlighted by AR4 you can make any economic argument you like.

      • See my comment above.

      • That should be “see my comment to hunter above”.

    • Dave-

      I think Judith’s article was very fair, but skewed to the skeptics.

      • Fred-

        I think Judith’s article was very fair, but gave you the opportunity to skeptically skew it.

    • No, it is a silly reactionary assessment.
      If climate science would move on from CO2 obsessions and look at all forcings- land use, vegetative changes, water changes, etc. then some interesting ideas could be developed.
      But frankly looking at one incident- a flood event in an area infamous for bad flood events and c to then spend and significant time at all worrying about CO2 seems to be a waste of marginal resources.
      Skeptics are fully justified in pointing out that all to often it is the AGW proponents who are looking at singular weather events and claiming global climate conclusions seems rather ironic, at the least.

      • With all the hype and schemes to lower CO2, is it realistic?
        Booming populations need more resources and everyone is looking for a comfortable life.
        Governments are cash strapped and would love a new tax at any cost no matter what they call it.

      • Not one scheme to lower CO2 has actually done so. And far from being a source of revenue, the efforts to lower CO2 have done nothing but cost money.

      • worrying about C02 is a demonstrable failure. working for global action: failure. People need to realize that the real precautionary principle needs to take into account the risk that there will be no global action. CFC control was easy. C02 control: aint gunna happen. Given the risk inherent in betting everything on C02 control, it seems the worse scenario is that we will be right about the risk of C02, wrong about the belief that global action will be taken, and ill prepared to handle the consequences. Meanwhile science will have determined that extreme events that occur in the future can be correlated with global warming. thin gruel for the victims. we are right about the science, but wrong about the policy.

      • Steve,
        Agreed. Let’s say there was a no-doubt-full-blown ice age starting up. Would we spend our time and limited resources trying to change Earth’s orbit or learning how to deal with loss of farmland and coastal cities becoming inland, far from shore?
        By the way, I bought your book and am reading it. The people who have refused to look into the CRU and those who wrote the e-mails have a lot to answer for.

      • “C02 control: aint gunna happen. ”

        Actually, Steve, CO2 emission control is already happening. Sure, there is no global binding treaty, yet, but there are several national governments, several US states (with economies that rival many nations), and a myriad of US cities and counties that have ordinances, statutes and laws in place to lower CO2 emissions.

        I suggest you familiarise yourself with the UK climate change act, AB32, and the EPA’s control of CO2 emissions via the clean air act. And CO2 emissions have been lowered in some countries that engaged in effective policies e.g. the UK’s reduction in CO2 emissions via its phasing out of coal fired power stations.

        Just out of interest, what are your views on adaptation versus mitigation for the really high CO2 concentration scenarios? With no CO2 emission control we might expect to reach well over 1000ppm if we’re driven to exploit less economical sources of hydrocarbons.

      • To Hunter,

        Actually, there is a significant focus right now in the climate community on other forcings, specifically regarding black carbon. Black carbon is the cool thing right now. There are various high profile and eminent scientists proposing that black carbon emissions reductions be sought since they yield dual health and climatic benefits. This is especially so since this is a relatively low hanging piece of fruit. I’m a little skeptical that black carbon has a significant positive global forcing. It has strong regional effects due to boreal biomass burning. Studies in the mid-latitudes and the tropics indicate that it could even have a negative forcing due to cloud burn off effects.

        Further, within my field, atmospheric chemistry, we are very much focused on the other forcings; aerosol and tropospheric ozone, for instance. The best work being done in our field right now involves looking at all 0f these forcings and how they interact. Thus, it’s a really glib mischaracterisation to make such statements about “CO2 obsessions”.

      • Paul H,
        Thank you for your responses.
        While many have spoken of non-CO2 climate influences, it seems very reasonable to me to describe the public square as CO2 obsessed.
        On a global basis, not one scheme treaty regulation or mandate has lowered CO2. Perhaps I should have stated it that way to be more clear.
        I cannot speak to the UK, but for the EPA, they have done nothing to date that has impacted CO2.
        Carbon black is interesting to me, as well. I wonder how much impact it has had on glacier melt?
        You are one of the only people I have communicated who seems to seriously believe 1000ppm is even feasible, much less likely. Can you provide any links to support that?
        In terms of mitigation vs. climate control, my bet is mitigation will win every time.

      • “the public square as CO2 obsessed”

        I can’t comment for public’s actual perception of the range of forcings affecting climate. I’m not aware of any surveys that probed opinions on these matters. Since scientists are actively researching other forcings and engaging in outreach, oft times high profile outreach ( (Ramanathan has been doing the rounds on this), and other scientists discuss other radiative forcings in their outreach, myself included, it seems somewhat unreasonable to blame scientists for any perceived lack of awareness on this. If you’re wondering why CO2 dominates the political and policy discourse, this has something to do with the long lifetime of the CO2 forcing relative to the other radiative forcings.

        With regards to the UK’s emission reductions, these are a direct result of the Kyoto protocol. Thus, whilst globally, the Kyoto protocol achieved little it had a very real impact upon the UK’s emissions.

        The EPA has only just finished with the court battles and is now seeking to move forward. I agree that they have done nothing so far and I have no idea how they are planning to reduce CO2 emissions, but I expect this will change with time. AB32 is in its early stages also, but CARB is currently drawing up its scoping plan to achieve the AB32 aims and is looking at various incentive schemes and cap and trade, to the best of my knowledge.

        To my knowledge +1000ppm is achievable if we’re driven to extract the currently uneconomically viable hydrocarbon deposits such as tar sands and shale oil. AKAIK ( and, 2/3s of the worlds hydrocarbon deposits exist in these forms. As reserves of conventional crude oil diminish economics will likely allow these non-conventional fuel sources to be extracted and used. With no viable energy alternatives this is a realistic possibility. But, this is a whole different debate and I’m off-topic. I will move my further comments to the open thread.

    • Let be honest here , I want to comment on this line ““While climate skeptics gain traction in the media and with policy makers – drawing endless attention to trivial errors (such as an AR4 typo on Himalayan glaciers) ” …ok now, who believes this was a typo, no one . It was an obvious attempt to manipulate public attention. Mr Paurachi knew it was a lie and he knew it was there, and he was reminded of the so-called typo long before it went to print, and he called out to the guy something about voodoo science.. an obvious attempt to discredit the person. Just like ” hide the decline ” no one really believes the flimsy excuses they try to cover up the lies. They are far too obvious.
      As far as Pakistan goes, Mother Nature is never forgiving . Floods happen when you live on a flood plain. Just like it snows if you live in the arctic. Kind of hard to blame mankind for natural occurances. The IPCC should be closed, and after considerable planning, a rebranding will begin. Such as a Global Climate Disruption panel….how inocious (?) is that …

  16. Even during my AGW activist period I recognised that the issue was by and large a ‘1st world’ angst. I don’t think the the billions struggling to survive daily in countries such as Pakistan are overly concerned with the quibbling over tenths of degrees warming and the causes thereof. Even if anthropogenic climate change were to lead to the sort of scenarios forecast by the IPCC, I believe that primarily addressing core issues of health, education, and extreme poverty are the most effective methods for dealing with these potential global challenges.

    • and Ian…., dealing with the year by year variations of climate and the occasional catastrophe allows the building of an infrastructure that may handle the incremental impacts of climate change. Even though there may be subtle changes from year-to-year in the magnitude of extreme events (although I am not sure that one can demonstrate this statistically) I am sure that expenditures on the shorter term will be more cost effective than planning for the changes associated with climate change.


  17. Michael Larkin

    Good, thoughtful article.

    I wonder. I really do. Are there some pundits who at some level are quite pleased when severe weather events occur so that they can be promoted as evidence for AGW? Are there some governments who are quite pleased that they have the wicked West to blame for catastrophes rather than faults more properly attributable to themselves?

    We definitely seem to be making things worse with deforestation, mismanagement of water resources, building inadequate habitations in vulnerable places, and so on. It’s not as if Pakistan isn’t an area where this kind of thing hasn’t happened before.

    It would be a tragedy if AGW is a red herring that is drawing all the attention while our energies might be more usefully directed towards improving ways of dealing with severe weather events that have always happened and always will. They wouldn’t go away if human CO2 emissions were zero.

    Which countries deal best with weather catastrophes? Is it those who are developed, or those who are not? Would “de-development” of the West and inhibition of development elsewhere increase or decrease the sum total of human misery?

    Stuff happens. Mankind has always dealt with it when it does. That has given it time and resources to evolve and deal with it better rather than becoming paralysed with fear of things that might or might not occur.

  18. I think far more than climate change, one can link poverty and poor governance to the magnitude and duration of this terrible human tragedy.

  19. There are several areas of human habitation which are so predisposed to weather and climate disasters as to render them inevitable. One of them is the Ganges Delta where low-lying offshore land is settled, despite government prohibition, because it can be productive and those settlers die in large numbers when typhoons raise the sealevel. Another is the edge of the Sahara, where decades of relatively high precipitation create herders and farmers who starve in the next decadal drought. Yet another are the great river valleys of China, and now Pakistan, and others, where highly productive riverbottom ground is repeatedly, and unpredictably, massively flooded.

  20. I have read some reports several days ago on the Pakistan floods. My impression is that the society of Pakistan has been made quite vulnerable against heavy rain fall. For instance, there are no flood plains to let river water escape when the river water level is high. This is because those flood plains once reserved for buffering floods already turned into residential sites.

    In Japan, we had a relevant experience on a severe flood in a town near Nagoya. The people in the town tried to open a flood gate installed along the river which was going to overflow due to heavy rain. But unfortunately, they failed. They could not open the flood gate just because it got rusty! Persons in charge of the town even didn’t know the existence of the flood gate.

    If the former (or former of the former) persons in charge took over their knowledge about the flood gate to their successors, the flood could be avoided. The vulnerability of a society can be reduced, and hence, the resilience of society can be increased, by checking the condition of the society. To do this, you need to see the detailed conditions of each spot by yourself, and need to imagine what will happen in specific cases-this is called a local-based approach.

    To my experience in discussions (including Japanese TV discussion programs in which I appeared) with professional climatologists and meteorologists, little of them seem to care the local-based approach. Thus, it is no surprise that they cannot grasp what is the real cause of the disasters. In this case I want them saying “We don’t know the cause of this.” instead of “The global warming may be the cause.”

  21. The responsibility for putting the CAGW argument aside here lies firmly with the proponents thereof. Stop trying to make capital by claiming global warming caused the floods, and noone will need to counter it.

    • Even though my “religious” leanings are on the side of AGW skeptic; I think both sides are not averse to using weather events to prove their climate points. The opposing side’s transgressions are always more visible.

  22. ( And is this the same Webster of Georgia Tech to whom Jones gave data he hid from McIntyre (which is no criticism of Webster of course) ? )

    • I’ve never seen the need to ask that question. The point is this:

      when Jones did not know who Mcintyre was he shared data.
      when Jones was asked by colleagues he shared the data.
      when jones was asked by critics outside of climate science (warwick hughes and steve) he did not
      share the data. he fabricated reasons. His defenders defended the indefensible. denialist style. the investigations have criticized his actions.

    • Punksta, yes this is the same Webster. Webster did not hide the data from McIntyre. In fact, Webster made a post on ClimateAudit stating that Jones had given him the data. This motivated McIntyre to ask Jones for the same data he gave Webster. McIntyre did not actually ask Webster for the data, he was more interested in the behavior of Jones in withholding the data from him. As far as I understand, McIntyre regards Webster as one of the “good guys.”

      • I get a bit saddened whenever I have to read “good” / “bad” guys when the underlying things that brings us together is something scientific, IMO. Describing scientists this way shows how overwhelmingly political the nature of climate science has become. But keep on with the “good” (oops!!) fight.

    • Alas, the same Webster! All I did was ask for the data and Phil Jones obliged. Is this a curse on me? We have analyzed the data (and also the dat poleward of 49N/S with particular interest in the land surface temperatures through the 1930-1970 period. We think that the bump in temperatures in 1935-45 (common in both the ocean AND the land) is evidence of an natural oscillation or a response to unknown forcing, clearly not AGHGs. We hope to submit a paper on this issue in the next few weeks. I am sure JC will insist on a statement when the time comes.
      More later…


      • Looking forward to reading your paper. Onward and upward, all is not settled (by a long shot).

      • The NCEP/ESRL 20th century reanalysis has been finished and is available online. Look in here Peter for evidence of the natural flip/regime change that you are looking for… ;-)

  23. Mosh sais
    “when Jones did not know who Mcintyre was he shared data.”

    Exactly. Apparently he is of good will and trusting (perhaps even to the point of naievity one could say with hindsight), until proved otherwise.

    When McIntyre showed his real colours, Jones’ was not half as willing anymore to go out of his way to help him. Surprise, surprise.

    • Jones was not only “not half as willing”, Jones bent over backwards to block McIntyre’s requests.

      It’s disappointing to learn that you find Jones’ behaviour acceptable in the name of science.

    • Bart,
      That rationalization is an example of Olympic quality mental gymnastics.
      I think a reasonable person, in light of the e-mails, could conclude this: As long as Jones assumed the one he was sharing data with was part of his echo chamber, everything was OK. When he found out that McIntyre might actually rigorously review the data, suddenly everything was bad.

    • I think Phil Jones did the honorable thing w/r to the data that he shared with us. The sad thing is that the GW debate wants two sides: red or white corners (or tribes as described by JC). Those of us who would like to oscillate back and forth in coming to a conclusion are under a lot of pressure. I have no argument with Phil but sympathize with the position he found himself in. But of course, science moves on …

    • B.V. Pray do tell, what are SM’s true colours?

  24. Excellent article. The proposal to actually use gathered information on climate patterns to reduce risks and damage is however not going to change anything. That is not because there is anything wrong in the proposal or suggested way of action.

    It is because we NEED more catastrophes, we NEED more victims, we NEED more fear.

    How else would the AGW agenda of global taxation go forth? It isn’t like “we can handle a bit more rain occasionally if we follow this plan and redirect this river a bit here” is going to sell much newspapers or instill fear into the global community. It has never been about some poor souls crop or life.

    Ending poverty, disease, violence or any other really major problem has never been important enough to act on, in the way climate is being acted on. The former problems could be helped in a big way by only a fraction of the money that is turning the AGW machine. So are we really worried about the poor and the needy?

    AGW taxation is supposed to make ppl feel good about ending up poor and jobless “cuz it saved the planet”.

  25. There is no hope for ‘climate science’ if the media and activists will not allow rational debate..

    A small example here, I have even been defending George Monbiot, as the Guardians behaviour, is being misconstrued as his own…

    “Some commenters, notably Barry Woods, have argued that we should take George at his word, and I must say I think this is right. Having seen a BBC blogger (Richard Black, IIRC) getting one of his comments snipped on his own thread, George’s story that he had nothing to do with the [Guardian] deletions is at least credible.”

  26. I’m not saying countries like the US shouldn’t help other countries in some manner, but the unspoken assumption here seems to be that we are spending a lot of money on carbon schemes when that money could be diverted to other more acute problems. One should remember that this money comes from citizens. It is the citizens’ money that is being spent. If spending on carbon schemes isn’t necessary, then the money should be returned to the tax payer in the form of less tax. It’s a bit galling that government and some scientists see this as their money to spend. It isn’t. Technically, the US is broke. We need to be cutting spending, not diverting money from the private sector that creates the jobs millions of people now need. The American Indians at least gave respect to the animal they killed to eat.

    • Jim, the point we are trying to make is that better forecast information (which could be provided for less than $1M/yr) could mitigate much of the impact of future disasters by enabling better water resource management and emergency management (Bangladesh has demonstrated that this can actually work). This level of funding is trivial compared to the billions that are spend on disaster assistance. In the context of the U.S., the approach of OFDA/USAID in this regard changes with different administrations. Under the Clinton administration, the emphasis was on building in country capacity, whereas the Bush admin focused on after the disaster aid. I will have a future post on OFDA/USAID. This is an issue not just for the State Dept, but also the Dept. of Defense, who is concerned about destabilization after one of these disasters, in the context of national and global security. Anything going on in southwest Asia has substantial global security issues, since this is the backyard of the Taliban and al Qaeda. Bangladesh was born circa 1970 in the aftermath of a devastating tropical cyclone that killed several hundred thousand people, owing to the lack of support from the Pakistani government

      • I am all for spending hard earned money in an intelligent manner. I’m looking forward to your post.

  27. Volt Aire,
    Interesting point and one that you may want to make to George Monbiot over at the Guardian (suitably phrased so as not to be moderated :o) he seems mighty despairing today and together with a copy of the book by Camus that I am currently reading it might provide him with some consolation ;o)

  28. Former Pres. Clinton famously said that “perception is reality.”

    What he meant is that if the media, and politicians, and environmental groups (in this particular case) repeat something enough times, it becomes accepted reality.

    Meaning: accepted political reality.

    I think this is the new gambit from the people who want to push CO2 and other regulations. Get the media to keep repeating that we have more droughts, more rainfall, more extreme weather events of all kinds, and eventually it will stick.

    I went to a presentation by someone from the Pew trusts about a year ago. He kept insisting that hurricane numbers and intensities were increasing. He cited the satellite data. I suggested, based on work available on NOAA websites, that the only reason there is an upward trend is that with satellites, we can detect hurricanes far in the ocean that would have been undetected previously. Judged on a consistent basis — hurricanes making landfall for the last 150 years in North America — decades before 1900 actually had more, and more powerful, hurricanes. The Pew presenter was scornful, very much reminding me of Michael Mann’s attempts to point the finger back toward his accusers.

    Then Chris Landsea’s article about past hurricane records came out, which made the point in publication that I had referenced from NOAA’s website. Not that the media made much of it.

    Ryan Maue, meanwhile, on his website shows that in the past ~ 30 years (e.g., during the period of satellite observations), the total Accumulated Cyclone Energy in the northern hemisphere is quite low since about 1996, when it was at a peak. Again, the media won’t touch it.

    Instead, we keep hearing that every horrific weather event is evidence that they are getting worse.

    Insurance companies make more money when they convince people that there are more and worse disasters, so they are on board.

    Meanwhile, people like Roger Pielke publish peer reviewed literature that shows that various trends are not increasing — for instance, no increases in payouts for weather related damage from hurricanes, or from floods — and about the only people who know that are people who read his blog. The IPCC lies to him, refuses to include his information, but nobody knows that if you don’t read his blog.

    Very Orwellian….

    We may yet find that climate change was responsible for how bad the Pakistan floods were, for how much rain fell, but for now, it looks like a similar atmospheric blocking action that kept storms pretty much in one place, the same action that made eastern Russia have the long deadly heat wave and Siberia have an opposite cold wave. I don’t want to prejudge what future science will say — maybe due to climate change we could have more blocking patterns. We’ll see.

    But I don’t want to make major policy decisions on the basis that perception caused by continuing repetition in the media becomes political reality. And based upon my own reading — see above — I don’t trust the purveyors of this repetition.

    • John,
      Well said. The obsession with CO2 caused ‘climate disruption’ is not leading us to better policies or even policies that actually work.

    • “Former Pres. Clinton famously said that “perception is reality.””

      This is true in politics, not in science. Well, it’s not supposed to be true in science – perhaps the traditional definition has been scrapped by many in order to gain grants, air time, and ‘positions of greater authority’ in the academic and research communities. Society does not place a high value on integrity, why should science. So, on reconsideration, perception (today) is reality (in science). Kind’a biblical ain’t it. Think we could find 10 scientists today with true integrity and thereby save the world? I would think so, but I have been wrong before.

      When a politician asks a scientist for his/her opinion on something, they’re often asking for more. Much more! As dear old mom and dad used to say, “Be careful who you associate with and pick for your friends.”

  29. Dr. Curry;
    In an excellant article on the effects of rain in Pakistan as it relates to the lack of attribution to Global Climate Change, and KPO’s use of marchesarosa’s literary references to 800 years of Russian peat bog fires and drought, I would like to see a completion of the weather extreme trilogy by a discussion of wind. Maybe something along the lines of the last 40 years of accumulated tropical cyclone energy. I can always recommend that people re-read Joseph Conrad’s late 19th Century “Typhoon” for its historical and environmental context instead of the plot line, the intersection of people and who they are as they encounter extreme circumstances. As a matter of fact, I recommend reading all literature in its historical and environmental context; it adds perspective.

  30. I’m hoping that this blog may illuminate the scientific foundations of the claim that global warming will increase the incidence of extreme weather events such as the Pakistani floods or the Russian heat wave. Extreme weather covers such a wide variety of hard-to-quantify phenomena, that I feel insulted by the blanket statements of the IPCC and WMO cited above. I’m uncomfortable with the idea that models make useful predictions in the absence of established physical mechanisms that can be observed in the models. What are the facts? a) In the case of hurricanes, we have some idea about the roles played by SST and wind shear and how they might change in a warmer world. Apparently there is still room for scientific debate. b) Floods like Pakistan’s and heat waves like Russia’s are due to weather patterns that remain stationary (blocked high?) for unusually long periods of time. Why is global warming expected to increase the frequency of such STATIC weather patterns? c) Heavy rainfall in one day causes flash flooding. There could be reliable observations linking such rainfall to surface temperature and humidity. Can we quantify the expected change in flash flood rainfall per 1 degC of warming based on such observations? (We have good reasons to assume relative humidity will remain constant in the boundary layer and in air which has recently been in contact with the boundary layer.) d) Other floods and droughts occur when a series of storms follow similar paths into or away from certain areas, but may not be clearly linked to an unusual static event. Any link to AGW here? e) Lindzen has said that many storms are powered by the temperature difference between the poles and the equator, a difference that is predicted to drop. Where is this mechanism appear relevant? f) What about tornadoes?

    AR4 WGI discusses extreme weather mostly in the context of model “projections” (which are often contradictory on regional scale and therefore are “more likely than not” better used as toilet paper :) Despite the title of their report, WGI says little “The Physical Science Basis” of extreme weather.

    Some of these subjects might be addressed by invited experts – if you can get them to focus on observational and mechanistic evidence. Models projections have already been thoroughly discussed in AR4.

  31. “Suppose for the sake of argument that an attribution study determined that 5% of Pakistan’s floodwaters could be attributed to global warming. Well, 95% of a catastrophe is usually still a catastrophe, unless that 5% was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Not only is the attribution exercise pointless in our opinion, but it is actually counterproductive in that it distracts from the reality at hand and diverts the efforts of the meteorological and climate communities from actually doing something that might be helpful.”

    Perhaps we’re saying the same thing in opposite ways, but it seems to me that knowing that 95% of a catastrophe is not attributable to global warming is valuable because it focuses attention on the other, more important, root causes and ways to deal with them. Conversely, if 95% was attributable to global warming, the expectations for future events would be quite different and so would the appropriate range of responses.

    For hurricanes, for example, it’s useful to know that for the foreseeable future the incremental change in damages caused by global warming is relatively small compared to the impact of hurricanes in the first place, so that for most practical purposes it’s better to be afraid of hurricanes than to be afraid of global warming’s effect on hurricanes.

    In the particular case of the Pakistan flooding, I wouldn’t be surprised if global warming had (in some appropriate sense) made them less severe than they would otherwise have been.

    Further discussion on this issue: my blog entries on attribution in general and the East Coast snowstorms in particular.

    • Hi John, thanks for stopping by.

    • John,

      Excellent points!


    • …”Conversely, if 95% was attributable to global warming, the expectations for future events would be quite different and so would the appropriate range of responses.”..

      Whether ‘global warming’ is the bull in the china closet, or ‘something else’, people these days aren’t very good at packing their tents and moving to a more favorable location no matter the reason. Developed countries seem to have this problem more so than nomads. I’m thinking of NOLA post-Katrina now. Why are we spending so much to rebuild a hole in the delta and daring dear old Mother Nature to “Jus’ do it again!”?

      Should we have a major port? OK, Why not?
      Should we have a major metropolitan area? I don’t think so.

      • Diana Liverman is an expert on environmentally induced migration, and I had a conversation with her last month on this topic. According to my recollection, she says modern agrarian peoples will temporarily migrate away from an area that has been struck by an environmental disaster, but mostly return. There is some permanent migration away from cities that are struck by disaster, and I think we have seen some people that have permanently migrated from NOLA as a result of Katrina. Rebuilding in the lowest altitude regions of NOLA (e.g. the 9th ward) is foolhardy, but there are a whole host of other political issues involved. In the U.S., the Cape Hatteras area of the North Carolina coast that gets hammered by hurricanes (esp Hugo in 1989) has convinced the state government not to rebuild in those areas. In Virginia, many people have not rebuilt by the coast. A combination of individual choice, government policy, financial incentives (e.g. insurance), and politics all comes into play in these decisions. Climate variability and change is increasingly becoming a factor in local government decisions regarding infrastructure, and the common interest in this regard varies from location to location. Again in the U.S., the feasibility and desirability of moving away from the coast is a lot easier to do in North Carolina than in Florida, where most of the economy is tied to to the coast (particularly tourism).

  32. I tried a social/scientific experiment on Facebook when I saw the news about the floods in Pakistan. I asked my classmates from college (I went The Citadel which is a military college if you recall) if they knew anyone stationed in Pakistan or Afghanistan that has gone into some caves hunting down the bad guys. I was hoping that they could take a few good stalagmites while in there so I could do a hydrologic paleoclimate reconstruction there… I was thinking that NSF and DoD would be on board for some rapid response funding if we could actually get some samples. It’s a pretty rough place for a gringo like me to actually visit… I would then put them on the fast-track for analysis in order to put this year’s big monsoon into historical context. I thought it would be important science and good PR for NSF and DoD.

    …unfortunately nothing as of yet. I will keep trying as it is so easy to miss status updates on FB.

    • Hi Jud (hello),

      All I know about the Citidal comes from Conroy’s book “Lords of Discipline”. If I had known you went there I would have worried when you took my classes :-)

      Speleothems aside, I hope that we can use satellite data (GPCP from 1981 and TRMM from 1998) to determine if the rainfall in N Pakistan was really anomalous. Initial analysis suggests tat it was not: patience and more later..


      • Hi Peter!

        Hahaha. I thought I gave you reason enough to worry w/o adding in a military background! ;)

        Sounds promising about the satellite data. Unfortunately, there is not more data to go back further in time – like in the 30’s and 40’s when ENSO was quiet and the monsoon was beating to the sounds of its own drum. …that sounds like a job for paleo! :D

    • William, you misunderstand what “attribution science” is with respect to extreme events: it is focused on attribution of individual events (not on projections of future events). See this discussion at climatecentral; attribution of extreme events looks like it will be a cornerstone of NOAA’s proposed Climate Services. I’m not buying it, I will be posting more on this in the near future.

      • Judith,

        That’s not quite right.

        If event attribution can be ‘got right’ it is hoped that it will then have something to say about future risk.

        And this would be very important for countries like Pakistan. Knowing that an event like the recent flooding was to increase from a 1 in 50 yr event, to a 1 in 20 year event (or not, as the case may be) has serious implications for a government with limited resources to make decisions about how it will channel those resources to mitigation and disaster response.

      • Michael the point is that i don’t think event attribution can be “got right.” I will have more to say about that in coming posts. I agree that having some scenarios of future risk is very important, and ways of articulating scenarios will be the topic of a future post. But attribution of individual events is not particularly useful in assessing future risk, even if it could be “got right.”

      • While doubting the possibility of attribution in this way, it seems that you are more enthusiastic for attribution when it comes to climate research’s contribution to the Pakistan flood disaster.

  33. As for risk management for floods in Pakistan, I think they failed. There is an interesting figure in p. 9 of WBGU Report 1998, World in Transition – Strategies for Managing Global Environmental Risks (

    According to this figure, the earlier condition in Pakistan was at “normal area” because the frequency of floods is relatively high and each flood gave relatively small damages. Recent condition can be classified as “Damocles type” because floods are seldom but damage due to the flood is tremendous when it once occurs.

    Desirable direction for managing risks is from “Damocles” to “normal.” That is, from uncontrollable to controllable. But, what actually happened in Pakistan was just opposite way.

  34. Paul H said

    ‘…And CO2 emissions have been lowered in some countries that engaged in effective policies e.g. the UK’s reduction in CO2 emissions via its phasing out of coal fired power stations.’

    We have a different understanding of the word ‘effective’ Paul. Do you mean effectively ruining our econmy and plunging the population into a nightmare of eternal power cuts because their dogma means they want to cut carbon but won’t buld grown up power stations to replace the coal/nuclear versions?


    • Tonyb,

      Let me be more specific. The UK phased out many of its coal fired power stations during the 1990s and replaced them with natural gas fired power stations. Natural gas has lower CO2 emissions per btu compared to coal. Thus, the UK achieved significant CO2 emission reductions. I’m surprised to see you think this is somehow linked to the current economic difficulties given that the economic problems were largely a banking problem associated with poorly secured lending. Also, how has this effective CO2 emission reduction policy lead to “a nightmare of eternal power cuts”?

      • Paul said;

        ‘I’m surprised to see you think this is somehow linked to the current economic problems…’

        I wasn’t talking about the past or the present but the future where we will have expensive, inefficient and unreliable power supplies which won’t meet the needs of an economy increasingly dependent on electricity and will lead to power cuts a very few years down the road.

        We are going to be very short of generating capacity and windmills aren’t the solution.

        The main reason we achieved significant reductions in our carbon emissions is that we exported our heavy industry to China who are emitting more carbon on our behalf.


      • “I wasn’t talking about the past or the present but the future…..”

        But I was talking about present and past as a counter to Steve’s assertion, clearly, so your criticisms seem rather unrelated.

        “The main reason we achieved significant reductions in our carbon emissions is that we exported our heavy industry to China who are emitting more carbon on our behalf.”

        Not according to emission inventories that investigate the UK’s emissions.

  35. I find this article very odd. Odd because it gets to the meat of the arcticle by first condemning any attempt to attribute any part of the Pakistani floods to Global Warming as ” pointless” and “counterproductive in that it distracts from the reality at hand” but then indulging in an attribution excercise of its own. Apparently attributions to Global Warming should not be discussed (and certainly not while the full devestation of the flood is fresh on everyones minds) but attributions to deforestation and poor engineering should be discussed before anyone starts wondering too much about what the future might hold for Pakistan in an increasingly warming world.

    The logic of considering the influence of Global Warming on the Pakistani floods is simple. At it’s peak flow, the Indus River is known to have exceded the previous highest known peak flow by 15% (1,034,000 cusecs in 2010 vs 900,000 cusecs in 1901). If, as seems plausible, the volume of water involved was increased by the atmosphere’s increased capacity to hold water; then we can expect floods with peak flows approaching 1.5 million cusecs by the end of this century? If so, any river management plans built on the assumption that the 2010 floods are the limit of what must be dealt with will inevitably fail. Proper planning will only occur when all contributing causes of natural disasters are given due attention; excluding a significant part of the equation because you consider it “pointless” and “counterproductive” is a recipe for policy failure.

  36. I’m a little perturbed by this article. The author starts off by talking about humanitarian issues and makes the specific point about addressing all other angles “other than a debate over whether global warming contributed to the floods” and then promptly spends a whole page quoting those who have done just that. WTF ?

    I have head it said that a climate time unit is 30 years …… surely the way to answer the question about AGW contribution (or not) is to compare current events with those over the last few centuries ….. a simple google search will deliver results that show the ‘top ten’ worst floods in history (ranked by death toll) occured in (in this order) 1931, 1887, 1938, 1975, 1935, 1530, 1971, 1911, 1287 and 1953. Pakistan doesn’t even rank.

    The lack of intellectual rigour and singular ability to only be able to relate to what has happened in the last 10 minutes that is displayed by climate scientists is truly sad.

    • A minimum of intellectual rigour would show you that while your list gives the dates, in order: 1931, 1887, 1938, 1975, 1935, 1530, 1971, 1911, 1287, and 1953; the supposedly equivalent list linked by Jimbo above gives the order; 1837, 1939, 1642, 1099, 1287, 1824, 1421, 1964, 1951, and 1958. My google search on your search terms yeilds at the number one position, a list with the dates; 1931, 1887, 1938, 1642, 1975, 1099, 1287, 1824, and 1421. These lists are hardly definitive.

      A slight amount more rigour would bring to your attention the frequent recurrence of particular places. The Yellow River takes out the top four spots on the list I found, for example. The Netherlands features in three out of ten positions. Nor is it hard to see why. The Yellow River is larger than the Indus, and has a higher population surrounding it. Consequently floods of the Yellow River are more devestating than those of the Indus. Likewise, a collapsing sea wall in the Netherlands is likely to be more devestating than a river flood. Comparing death tolls across different river systems is no basis to determine whether the flooding of a particular river system is exceptional or not.

      A modicum of intellectual rigour would tell us that flood surival rates will be much greater in an era with weather forcasts and radio communications to allow early evacuations; helicopters and motorised boats to enable rescues; and massive government and NGO aid to avoid famine and disease after the floods for equaly devestating floods.

      And expert has been well defined as somebody who knows the basic mistakes in their field, and how to avoid them. Nevertheless the internet is replete with arrogant twits who think that they can trip up genuine experts on the most trivial of mistakes. Invariably, in doing so, they only show the shallowness of their own thinking; that they have not even learnt to avoid the most trivial mistakes in the subject.

      • “Comparing death tolls across different river systems is no basis to determine whether the flooding of a particular river system is exceptional or not.”

        I’m genuinely curious how you determine if a given flood is exceptional or not. Do we have a historical record good enough to determine if it is > 2 sigma or 3 sigma for example? Also, how do you determine if global warming contributed to it and by how much?

    • There is little gained in deep analysis to unlimited discussion of the favorite hypotheses of every person on the planet. What praytell is wrong with using a time honored technique to focus on specific areas and saving some matters for consideration later?

      • Since the Pakistan floods, Dr Curry has time to set up an new blog, post on Hurricanes, post on doubt, post on Pakistan, and now post on uncertainty. No doubt she has done numerous other things as well. Quite plainly, her consideration of certain causal factors of the Pakistan flood, such as deforestation has neither monopolized nor exhausted her mental resources over this period. This is what makes her proscription of attribution of those floods to Global Warming so odd. It appears to assume that our mental resources are extraordinarilly limited – that thinking about taliban sponsored deforestation prevents us from also thinking about global warming. Nothing could be further from the truth.

        So, Pascvaks, there is much to be gained by discussing the relevance of Global Warming to the Pakistan floods; and as excluding of that discussion is not based on conserving scarce mental resources, it can only be based on a desired censorship. (I would say the same of anyone who said we should not discuss deforestation, or barrages, or silt in relation to the floods, except I can’t find any proponents of Global Warming thus trying to restrict, or delegitmize the discussion.)

  37. Michael Welland has an excellent post on the Indus River bed sand/silt issue on his blog Through the Sand Glassglass

  38. > ImranCan says: …
    > I have head it said that a climate time unit is 30 years

    Dr. Curry, can you set up a post somewhere on basic statistics, so people can grasp how a data set is looked at to decide how long it takes to say there’s likely a trend in it?

    Without that, people have no clue how to look at a data set and know what’s likely there.

  39. Is there perhaps a connection between the war in Pakistan and the interest of the UN’s IPCC chief (Rachendra Pachauri) and US climatologists in Pakistan?

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel

  40. Paul H

    I’m not sure whether we must be talking at cross purposes.

    I’m sure you won’t disagree that the UK has achieved little real carbon cuts through its own actions. Any lessening of our carbon budget is mainly due to lower economic activity because of the recession and in part through exporting our heavy and manufacturing industries overseas. Both the Govt and FOE admit this.

    Our energy policy has been almost non existent over the past 13 years so we are lacking big power projects coming forward whilst closing down existing power plants and relying over much on wind power. This will result in power black outs and greatly increased costs which will impact on our economy and individuals.


  41. I reach somewhat different conclusions than Dr. Curry regarding the use of labels such as “warmist” and “skeptic.” She argues that these labels should not be used in scientific discourse because they “…have nothing to do with science.” In the following remarks, I’ll argue these labels should not be used because the use of them is illogical. I’ll go further by arguing that the methodology by which climatologists build their models is fundmentally illogical, leading to irresolvable disagreements between factions and consequent name-calling. Finally, I’ll argue that climatologists should seek a logical approach to the construction of their models and suggest to the management of Climate, Etc. that it use this blog as a vehicle for the discovery of this approach.

    Disagreements leading to name-calling arise in the context of the method of construction for climatology’s models. A model is a procedure for making inferences. Each time an inference is made, there is a set {a, b, c…} of alternatives for being made. Which of these alternatives is correct? The model builder must decide!

    Logic is the science of the principles by which the correct alternative may be identified. These principles are called “the principles of reasoning.”

    For the deductive branch of logic, the principles of reasoning have been known since Aristotle. The problem of discovery of the principles of reasoning for the whole of logic is called “the problem of induction” after “induction,” the process by which one generalizes from specific instances in the construction of a model.

    Though most of the age of science, the principles of reasoning were unknown. In building models, scientists coped through replacement of the principles of reasoning by intuitive rules of thumb called “heuristics.” However, in every instance in which a heuristic identified a particular inference as the correct inference, at least one different heuristic identified a different inference as the correct inference. In this way, the method of heuristics violated the law of non-contradiction. Non-contradiction was the cardinal principle of logic.

    Climatology is one of the many fields of inquiry in which model builders continue in the scientific tradition of employing heuristics in place of the principles of reasoning. The use of labels such as “warmist” and “skeptic,” is symptomatic of the kind of heuristic in which the correct inference is identified by argumentum ad vericundium (argument from authority). In this context, a “warmist” is a person who argues from authority that the inferences made by certain climate models are correct. A “skeptic” is a person who rejects this particular heuristic.

    It would be well if climatologists were to replace argument from authority and all other heuristics by the principles of reasoning. What are these principles? It might be fruitful if the management of Climate, Etc. were to post this question for discussion amongst us.

  42. Jim, the Pakistani floods exceded the previous highest known flow rates by 15%. They have the second highest deathtoll known of any flood of the Indus (although secondary effects – disease, and famine- of the flood may soon change that). They have flooded more provinces of Pakistan than any flood in the last 80 years. That suggests that in the last 110 years, there have only been three floods of comparable magnitude on the Indus – one in 1901, one in 1929, and the current flood. Durring that period there have been 64 floods, sufficient to provide a reasonable statistical sample. From this data, this flood is certianly more than a 1 in 22 event (2 sigma on a normal distribution), but probably less than a 1 in 81 event (2.5 sigma on a normal distribution). That is not enough, on its own to attribute the destructiveness of the floods to global warming.

    However, the Pakistan floods are linked to the Russion heatwave. If the Russian heatwave must be significantly attributed to Global Warming, then so also must the Pakistani floods. The floods, in that context, do not stand as independant evidence of Global Warming, but rather as evidence regarding the potential economic and human cost of Global Warming.

    In contrast to the floods, the Russian Heatwave does stand as significant evidence of Global Warming. It was (at least) a 1 in 2,150 event (3.5 sigma) and possibly as much as a 1 in 15,800 event (4 sigma). This is discussed by Tamino and Motl.

    Having mentioned Motl, I must criticise his post as it contains several, to my mind, significant misunderstandings. To start with, he assumes that temperature variation follows a normal distribution, instead of just approximating to one over a limited range. To illustrate my point, consider a series of throws of two six sided dice, which will approximate to a normal distribution. If we assume it is a normal distribution, however, we will conclude that once in a great while, a throw of two six sided dice will give a result of 13. Motl makes an equivalent error.

    We know temperatures do not follow a normal distribution, because if they did then occassionally we would see temperatures 25 or even 50 degrees above the mean – something we never see. At some point above and below the mean, temperatures must cease to approximate to the normal distribution. The question is, at what point? My guess is it is somewhere above 2 sigma, but not above around 2.5 sigma; in which case any temperature extreme 2.5 sigma or more above the mean would be evidence that the climate is in fact shifting. Of course, my guess is a guess.

    Motl also makes a guess (though he does not describe it as such) that the point above which temperatures no longer approximate to a normal distribution is above 4 sigma. That is a significant difference. If my guess is correct, then the Russian Heatwave is significant evidence that the climate is shifting (and hence the Pakistani floods evidence of the likely costs of that shift). If Motl is right, than the Russian Heatwaves may just be an artifact of normal variations in the weather. Fortunately, Motl provides us a simple test (although he does not describe it as such) as to who is correct. He calculates that if 4 sigma lies within normal variation, then ,b.on average two 4 sigma events will occur somewhere in the globe each year.

    That is a bold prediction, but SFAIK it fails spectacularly. In fact, SFAIK, the Moscow heatwave is the only 4 sigma event to have occured anywhere in the globe in the last 50 years. Of course, I may well be wrong about that, due to limited knowledge, and still more limited statistical analysis. If Motl is correct, however, it should be easy to prove me wrong. Just list the approximately twenty 4 sigma temperature events we should have expected over the last 10 years. Absent such a list, I must operate on the best of my knowledge and conclude that the Russian Heatwave lies outside the range of normal variation and hence is evidence of a warming globe.

    The second point on which Motl is misleading is his claim that “nothing detectable is changing about statistical distributions”. In fact, something is transparently changing about statistical distributions – specifically, the ratio of record hot events to record cold events is increasing. That is clear evidence of a warming climate. Tamino gives an example of this, with 17 new national high temperature records set this year, to one low temperature record. (National records are not the best for this type of analysis because of the great variation in size, but it is illustrative.) Grouping these records by time and geography shows that 2010 has had 6 record hot weather events, and only 1 record cold weather event.

    • >sigh<
      The only 4 sigma event in the last 50 years?
      What about the last 100 years?
      Motl is saying there must be two of these events annually? Hmmmm……
      I did not notice anywhere where Motl talks about getting impossible results like 13 from a universe that only offers up to 12.
      As to your claim about extremes, I find it odd that you ignore the huge population and land use changes in the Indus over the past decades. But then, that would completely undermine CO2 and we cannot have that, can we?

      • In my discussions I have focussed exclusively on the water flow in the Indus, the rainfall, and the geographical extent of the flood. Population increases and landuse changes have little or no effect on these. (Deforestation in the headwaters will increase the rate at which water enters the river, and hence initial flow rates; but should also have reduced the duration of the flood, and this flood has not been over quickly.) Had my discussion focused on the more than 20 million people displaced by this flood, your criticism would have been valid. However, I purposely avoided discussing the number of people displaced as a mark of the size of the flood because population increases make it a biased indicator. (Likewise for the number of deaths, though in this case improved technology reduces the death rate more than population increases would increase it.)

        Apparently you have given this enough thought to think of a factor that might obviate any uncomfortable thoughts for your world view; but could not even take the trouble to find out whether that factor was relevant to my discussion.

        On the other points. Motl makes the assumption that because temperature distributions approximate to a normal distribution between -2 and 2 sigma, therefore they must continue that approximation out beyond 3 sigma. In many physical systems, such an assumption is not physical. If Motl’s assumption is correct, over the last 100 years there should not have been 1 or 2 such 3.5+ sigma events, but 200. If there have been only 1 or 2, Motl’s assumption has failed.

        I illustrated this point about the perilousness of assuming the tails of normal distributions will always be present with a simple example from dice. I did not attributte that example to Motl. That is why I said that Motl made an equivalent mistake.

  43. I recently listened to a fascinating radio interview with Thomas Homer-Dixon, who has some relevant observations on the Pakistan floods and the root causes of why they were so catastrophic. I transcribed his comments for a post I wrote up on my site:

    That post touches on some other things he said, but for the purposes of this discussion, here’s the relevant Homer-Dixon comments:

    “Recently, in Pakistan, we’ve seen enormous floods, and some real questions about the viability of the state as a whole, the possibility now many people are discussing is the country disingregating into regions, and perhaps civil war, or an extremist takeover of some kind…”

    “Its interesting, that in the recent commentary on the floods, very few people have mentioned that one of the reasons the floods have been so bad is that the absortion capacity of the hinterland, of the forests, has been reduced substantially because there has been so much deforestation in the country, that the siltation of the waterways and reservoirs has made them much more vulnerable to being overwheled by higher runnoff with an extreme monsoon like this, and the siltation is the result of deforestion and bad land management, that has allowed a lot of the silt to move into those waterways. Few people have commented on just the sheer population pressures in Pakistan. This is a country that has done one of the worst jobs in family planning in the world. And the population pressure in itself, has made managing economic development, managing the land, managing the forests effectively, far more difficult.”

    “Now, population, deforestation, land management, desalinization of the agricultural land, all of these factors are part of the mix. And a mix that includes things like corruption, institutional failure, the role of the military, a political system that is completely dysfunctional. So what happens in the standard analysis that you see in newspapers is that people focus on the variables they’re most comfortable with.”

    • Hi Keith, I spotted your interesting post on c-a-s. Vulnerability is a complex issue, and blaming everything on climate change is naive. Re population in Pakistan, actually their population growth rate has decreased significantly since the 1960’s, from one of the highest in the world to 1.55% per year, which is still high but much lower than it was. family planning is working to some extent in Pakistant.

  44. The rapidity
    Of sex change operation.
    Nino to Nina.

  45. Alexander Harvey


  46. Alexander Harvey

    Extreme might be a bit of an overly emotive term. It may be best to find another, perhaps improbable of tail event. Tail events need not be disastrous, but merely hazardous, or simply bizarre and perplexing.

    In the UK, for the weather to be predicatable or even boring would be a tail event.

    An increase in tail events might might arise from a change in the mean (asymmetric between the tails) or a change in the variance (symmetric between the tails). I understand that it is increase in climatic variance that is considered to be the more worrying and an increase in both variance and persistence (slowing down) the more so.

    Alternatively a persistent decrease in seasonal variation might not be without ecological consequence.

    Perhaps my point is that it be better were we explicit whenever discussing changes in mean, variance, or persistence, rather than their collective which risks allowing free inference from the usage of extreme.


    • Alexander Harvey

      I neglected to add that:

      There is a theoretcial link between increase in both variance and persistence and forewarning of climatic transitions and that some retrospective candidates have been identified but so far no smoking gun for impending transition be clearly apparent.