Klotzbach and Landsea have published an interesting new paper in Journal of Climate on the frequency and percentage of Category 4-5 hurricanes.
Title: Extremely Intense Hurricanes: Revisiting Webster et al. (2005) After 10 Years
Webster et al. (2005) documented a large and significant increase in both the number as well as the percentage of Category 4-5 hurricanes for all global basins from 1970-2004, and this manuscript examines if those trends have continued when including ten additional years of data. In contrast to that study, as shown here, the global frequency of Category 4-5 hurricanes has shown a small, insignificant downward trend while the percentage of Category 4-5 hurricanes has shown a small, insignificant upward trend between 1990 and 2014. Accumulated Cyclone Energy globally has experienced a large and significant downward trend during the same period. We conclude that the primary reason for the increase in Category 4-5 hurricanes noted in observational datasets from 1970 to 2004 by Webster et al. was due to observational improvements at the various global tropical cyclone warning centers, primarily in the first two decades of that study.
So, not much of a trend, though I think 2015 stats might change the results.
What's most interesting to me is that you won't read about this study in the media. Well, you probably won't.
I think we can say with near certainty that Scientific American will not report this. Justin Gillis at the New York Times will not report it. Chris Mooney will not report it. Ars Technica will not report it. Probably none of the major news outlets will report it other than perhaps Fox News. But they will report anything to do with more hurricanes, and anyone linking it to AGW.
Well, we're ruining the test by calling them out. One of these outfits might actually report it as a result of being called out, but I doubt it.
Something I've been thinking about lately is how mediated and constructed our realities are. We've done a lot of work on this in terms of how a person frames events, for example in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. We know how powerful a person's perspective and framing can be. That alone has implications for how we deal with extremely subtle statistical realities like climate change. (Well, one can see them as subtle – or not. That's the point.)
But in this case I'm talking about exogenous factors – the information that is made available to people. There are a number of quality studies by noted climate scientists and oceanographers that would appear to dampen worries about climate change, or at least catastrophic climate change. However, these papers appear to be virtually ignored by the media. That is interesting.
There's a swath of reality that is being blacked out by major media outlets, and another swath that is being amplified and emotionalized. I think this is clear, and ideally wouldn't be controversial across the political spectrum. What concerns me is that we may not be dealing with a purely political spectrum at this point. There are many reasons for a social scientist to wonder if environmentalism operates as a religion at both psychological and sociocultural levels of analysis. This question deserves a lot of research. So far, little of it has been conducted, likely due to the current popularity of environmentalism in academic culture, including social science. I think it's clear with specific individuals that environmentalism is their religion (see the Pachauri quote below) – the question is how common this is. Environmentalists are unlikely to be homogeneous.
Perceived reality is such a malleable thing. Lots of people know this, and lots of people use this fact. The whole profession of PR and publicists feeds on it, and it deeply disturbs me to see publicists employed in scientific bodies like AAAS. PR and science are not compatible.
Right now we seem to have a shortage of science writers in general, and an acute shortage of science writers who cover climate and are not also staunch environmentalists. That's an ethical oversight by their employers. If anything is "unsustainable", getting our science through such a biased filter must be. I don't have solutions yet, but this issue should be thoroughly researched. If environmentalism is in fact a religion, this becomes an even bigger problem. We must avoid getting our science from and through a religion, at all costs.
For those of you who are environmentalists, well first, welcome. I assume the idea that environmentalism could be a religion might strike you as absurd. Well, some of you may be fine with viewing it as a religion, but I expect most would not be fine with it, for a number of reasons. I haven't given you any details on what I'm thinking about, what my hypotheses might be, how we could navigate this issue and determine, scientifically, if environmentalism is a religion (or similar to one, or something else.) I don't blame you for being offended. It will be some time before we have sizable data on this question, and we need more researchers involved.
IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri was quite explicit about his religious motivations in his resignation letter:
For me the protection of Planet Earth, the survival of all species and sustainability of our ecosystems is more than a mission. It is my religion and my dharma.
I also see a lot of viciousness and cultism in the movement that I don't see as much on other political issues. Greenpeace actually published the following on their website:
The proper channels have failed. It's time for mass civil disobedience to cut off the financial oxygen from denial and scepticism. If you're one of those who believe that this is not just necessary but also possible, speak to us. Let's talk about what that mass civil disobedience is going to look like. If you're one of those who have spent their lives undermining progressive climate legislation, bankrolling junk science, fuelling spurious debates around false solutions and cattle-prodding democratically-elected governments into submission, then hear this: We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work. And we be many, but you be few.
This is clearly a threat. Greenpeace's explanation for the post suggests that they don't disown violence and threats:
We realise it might have sounded threatening to some. This is why we have explained over and over that it is NOT a threat of violence, that Greenpeace doesn't endorse violence, it is not a campaign tactic and never will be.
It might have sounded threatening to some? They've explained over and over that it's not a threat? Talk about treating reality as malleable. They don't understand that they don't get to change the reality that it was a threat simply by decree. The man said "We know where you live." I don't think I knew before now that Greenpeace is a wink-wink pro-violence organization. It's deeply worrisome that some of the "science" writers that filter climate science for us happily associate with Greenpeace. (I'd be interested to know if there have been any acts of violence reported against individuals who publicly opposed environmentalism. There was some violence or at least vandalism in California against people who had donated to the anti-gay-marriage proposition. The donation records were public, with addresses apparently. I suppose the gay marriage issue might be another case of very strong emotions and not much formal argumentation or play of ideas.)
I don't think we see this kind of behavior so much on the income tax debate, ObamaCare, drugs, etc. People aren't motivated to threaten others so much for being pro-tax-cut. There seem to be sacred values at work – perhaps religious ones – when people do what Greenpeace did. There are specific concepts of nature and sustainability that environmentalists subscribe to, and perhaps ecological stasis could be said to be a sacred value, since cost-benefit analyses on climate mitigation/adaptation are so controversial to them. There is an intolerance for disagreement that we see when people form tribes that insulate themselves from the views and motivations of out-groups. For example, I think it would be very difficult for staunch environmentalists to understand why someone might admire the Koch brothers for their achievements and agree with their funding choices – their language around the Koch brothers suggests that they think it's self-evident that disagreeing with environmentalism is evil. I don't think they contemplate that people might value and admire productiveness, entrepreneurship, enterprise and so forth in much the same way that environmentalists might value a small carbon footprint.
One thing that's clear is that environmentalism offers signaling opportunities like nothing we've ever seen. Christians and Muslims have never been able to chronically signal their virtue or status as believers by buying a certain kind of car. There's never been a Christian Prius. Or Christian detergent and paper towels and shopping bags. Chronic signaling of one's virtue does not define religion, but that should give you something to think about. There are some distinctive features here.
(Updated main body of post on October 27, 2015: Cut the tangents about trigger warnings, which didn't fit, and cut grumpy parts about academia, which were needless distractions (and too grumpy.))
José L. Duarte
Social Psychology, Scientific Validity, and Research Methods.