10 August 2010

Catastrophe Catnip

[UPDATE: Bryan Walsh responds here.]

Journalists are drawn to the notion that greenhouse gas emissions increase the human toll from extreme events like Ulysses was drawn to the sirens.  The connection between the two is made despite a robust scientific consensus -- and lack of evidence to the contrary -- that no signal beyond increasing societal vulnerability has been detected in increasing disaster losses, much less attributed to the effects of accumulating greenhouse gases.

A particularly egregious example of this sort of journalism comes from Time's Bryan Walsh, who writes:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that warming is, on the whole, likely to increase intense rain and snowfall, leading to more catastrophic floods like the ones we're seeing in Pakistan.
In fact the IPCC AR4 said very little about flooding, and nothing about catastrophic floods like what are currently being observed in Pakistan (and the previous IPCC said that little could be said).  But when the sirens are singing, it is hard to avoid the rocky shores on the island of nonsense.

Walsh make's things worse when he writes:
But the heartbreaking Asian floods should be one more reminder of the need to put the world on a path to lower carbon emissions—before the weather reaches extremes that no one can handle.
The use of suffering brown people in places far away as poster children in our political battle about greenhouse gas emissions is particularly callous and unhelpful in my opinion.  These people are not evidence about what might happen in the future -- they are real people suffering today.  The heartbreaking Asian floods should be one more reminder that the world is full of vulnerabilities today and there are things that we can do today to make a difference.

There are excellent reasons to put the world on a path to lower carbon emissions, of this I am sure.  But I am also sure that suffering people in Pakistan today are not among them.