Weather Isn’t Climate and Climate Isn’t Weather!
Roger Caiazza (on the subject of)
Independent Researcher and Publisher,
Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York
[Editor’s Note: Climate advocates are constantly utilizing weather, rather than science, to rationalize their essentially political positions regarding global warming.]
A couple of articles came to my attention recently that exemplify the mainstream narrative that climate change impacts are pervasive and catastrophic. Both make the fundamental mistake of confusing weather and climate. At the same time, I read two other articles that explained why the propaganda supporting the mainstream narrative is so pervasive. This article highlights those stories because they are relevant to the rationale for New York’s Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act (Climate Act).
I have been following the Climate Act since it was first proposed, submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan, and have written over 350 articles about New York’s net-zero transition. I have devoted a lot of time to the Climate Act because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that the net-zero transition will do more harm than good. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.
Climate Act Background
The Climate Act established a New York “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. It includes an interim 2030 reduction target of a 40% reduction by 2030 and a requirement that all electricity generated be “zero-emissions” by 2040. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that outlines how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.” In brief, that plan is to electrify everything possible using zero-emissions electricity.
The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the electrification strategies. That material was used to develop the Draft Scoping Plan. After a year-long review, the Scoping Plan recommendations were finalized at the end of 2022. In 2023 the Scoping Plan recommendations are supposed to be implemented through regulation and legislation.
Mainstream Narrative Enforcement
I recently posted an article about Patrick Brown’s explanation of How to Publish a High-Profile Climate Change Research Paper. There were two versions of his story and he followed up with Correcting the Record Regarding My Essay in The Free Press. I described the story that emphasized the journal article aspect. Charles Rotter described how Brown tried to get widespread media coverage. He used the following techniques to maximize exposure:
- Consider the influence of climate change in isolation without any suggestion that climate change might not be the dominant driver of the impacts described;
- Ignore or downplay practical actions that can counter the impact of climate change;
- Focus the discussion and graphics on metrics that will generate the most eye-popping numbers; and
- Choose the timescale for the analysis to magnify the impacts
In another article Kip Hansen explained that there are climate news organizations that provide local newspaper and TV stations with propaganda talking points and articles. He explains:
I know that that sounds like a “conspiracy theory”… but it is not a conspiracy theory if it is true and if those involved in the act of conspiring together not only do so openly but proudly publicize their actions.
The lesson today comes from an email I received from Covering Climate Now which characterizes itself this way: “CCNow collaborates with journalists and newsrooms to produce more informed and urgent climate stories, to make climate a part of every beat in the newsroom — from politics and weather to business and culture” and when they say “urgent” climate stories, they mean the more alarming and frightening, the better.
Mainstream Narrative Example Stories
My recent morning routine was ruined by a couple of stories in the local paper. The first was an opinion piece from the Washington Post that claimed that “My husband has farmed for 4 decades. Climate change might end his run.” The second story was an article that argued that Canadian wildfires and extreme weather fueled a huge crop of poison ivy in Central New York this summer.
The farming article described the trial and tribulations of hay farming. Lisa Cohen writes:
But as we come to the end of the wettest July on record, “make hay while the sun shines” has been shifting from self-evident axiom to rueful irony. Yes, you have to make hay while you can. But also you need sunshine to make hay.
Here’s how it works. It takes at least two sunny days to complete the cycle: mow, dry, rake, bale. Much of that time is waiting for the sun to do its work. (The hay must dry completely, because moisture can breed heat-producing bacteria deep inside a bale — which might then spontaneously combust and burn down a barn.) In theory, if Adam mowed a field on a Tuesday morning, he could expect to bale it late Wednesday afternoon.
In a good year — what we used to call a normal year — Adam would have extended stretches of sunny days that went like this: Mow in the morning, then unload wagons piled with bales from fields mowed two days before, then, in the afternoon, rake and finally bale the field he mowed yesterday.
In 2019 an acquaintance made a similar claim about climate change and haying. I analyzed a Hay Harvest Climate Trend and concluded that climate numerical analysis results are likely ambiguous, picking a climatic trend out of weather records is not simple, and, most importantly, any statistically significant trends are likely smaller than the observed inter-annual variation. As a result, anecdotal claims of observed changes of weather parameters due to climate change are likely biased and unsubstantiated.
My hay trend data analysis showed ambiguous results. It suggested that there is conflicting support for a climate-change induced problem with hay harvesting in August and September. The New York site at Mohonk House data indicate a statistically significant trend in more days suitable for harvesting hay whereas another observation site in Ithaca data indicate a trend towards less days suitable for harvesting hay but the trend is insignificant.
At both stations there is a negative statistically significant trend in the number of growing degree days. Depending upon your intent, statistics can “prove” an argument that there is a problem or there isn’t a climate change problem. This work supports my belief that hay harvesting variation is caused by the vagaries of weather not climate change.
The Canadian wildfires and extreme weather fueled a furious crop of poison ivy in Central New York this summer article in the Syracuse Post Standard by Steve Featherstone starts reasonably enough.
Poison ivy is having a banner year in Central New York, climbing up trees and creeping into yards with greater vigor than ever.
“I’ve been in this business for almost 30-plus years and I’ve not seen it this bad,” said Dave Oakley, groundcrews supervisor for TJ’s Lawns Plus in Cicero.
Many landscapers and master gardeners we spoke to, from Watertown to Ithaca, Baldwinsville to Chittenango, report similar observations: poison ivy’s growth this season has been explosive.
“When you get a heat wave, most plants will go dormant or die,” Beyel said. “If they don’t die, as soon as they get the moisture they need to survive, they’ll explode and push out a ton of growth, and that’s exactly what happened. Plants just took off.”
The following table shows that May was dry but that the last three months were wet. It is not surprising then that the poison ivy “explosive” growth was noticeable.
The article could have been content to show that this was a good growing year for everything that survived the drought including poison ivy. The article does a good job describing the plant, its growing habits, why it causes problems, and how to deal with it. Apparently, that information was not good enough because the author also blamed climate change for the poison ivy problem this year.
Consider the claims relative to Brown’s climate change narrative techniques. For example, one technique considers the influence of climate change in isolation without any suggestion that climate change might not be the dominant driver of the impacts described. In this instance the following claim makes no attempt to determine if this summer’s moisture pattern was unusual or part of a trend.
Climate change is fueling the growth of many plants, especially poison ivy, which grows larger, faster, and even more potent.
The article already explained that this year’s weather was the primary cause of the plant growth pattern. The absence of any context about climate relative to weather makes the claim that climate change had any effect whatsoever entirely without basis.
It gets worse because Featherstone invokes the threat of GHG emissions not only affecting the climate but also the growth of poison ivy.
There’s another factor that’s fueling the growth of many plants, especially poison ivy: climate change. We’re pumping ever more carbon dioxide, a key component in photosynthesis, into the atmosphere.
Because poison ivy doesn’t have branches, stems, or a trunk to support, it can channel all that extra energy into “growing larger, faster,” said Kim Adams, extension biologist for the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
Adams citeda 2006 study from scientists at Duke University showing that poison ivy “benefitted hugely” from increased carbon dioxide levels, more than doubling in biomass (149%) compared to plants grown under ambient conditions.
A quick check on the 2006 study shows that the authors also followed the climate threat narrative playbook. In the 6-year study at the Duke University Free-Air CO2 Enrichment (FACE) experiment, the study evaluated the impacts of elevated atmospheric CO2 on poison ivy growth. However, they increased the CO2 level (200 ppm above the ambient level of ≈370 ppm) to levels unrepresentative of current conditions.
They chose a timescale for the analysis to magnify the impacts by using what they claimed represented the predicted global concentration in 2050. In order to do that they had to use an unrealistic estimate of future emissions. I believe these numbers are more representative of global concentration in 2100 or later.
The article goes on to quote Kim Adams, extension biologist for the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, who notes that the article claims that urushiol production was increased. Not mentioned was that the article said urushiol may “may increase under elevated CO2” when grown in “low resource levels and/or in competitive environments”. I think the following is an example of focusing the discussion on metrics that will generate the most eye-popping numbers”:
What’s worse, the turbo-charged poison ivy vines were also more toxic to humans. “The chemical that we’re allergic to, urushiol”—the compound in poison ivy sap that causes itchy blisters in 85% of the population—”was more effective,” Adams said.
I sensed that there were issues with some of these statements so I asked a friend and colleague to review this text to see if I was correct. She asked a subject matter expert for his thoughts. He scanned the article and picked up on the poison ivy claims. He agreed that “in the Duke Forest FACTS site (Free-Air CO2 enrichments study), poison ivy was apparently the biggest “winner” when it came to response to CO2 enrichment.” However, he also stated that the Duke researchers acted consistent with Patrick Brown’s characterization because they always had a “gloom and doom” agenda and consistently promoted those results above all else.
His biggest concern was a fundamental problem with the study design. The Duke researchers tried to say that, after 5 or 6 years of CO2 exposure, the pine response flatlined (which is true) indicating that these ecosystems will quickly acclimate to higher CO2 (which is not true). The design flaw was “In the next to last year of study, the entire stand around the FACTS site was thinned because it had reached crown closure and competition (light, nutrients, water) was resulting in a decline in growth rate – a very normal occurrence for a 15-yr-old loblolly pine stand which is why it was thinned – to reallocate resource to the best trees and increase growth rate in these trees.” He explained that:
In wildlife biology they talk about carrying capacity (k) as the number of animals a site will maintain; the same is true for carbon – a site will only hold a finite amount of C (we can alter that via management – e.g., fertilization – but it remains a finite number). So, what had happened at the Duke site is they didn’t consider this in the study. In itself, that would have been fine; however, to conclude that the tress had acclimated to the high CO2 was inaccurate.
When I pointed this out at a meeting where these data were presented, I was told I didn’t know what I was talking about. I first told them, that I was probably one of only a few at the meeting with an actual degree and experience in forestry management. Then told them to back up their conclusion and prove me wrong – thin the study, leave the CO2 on, and see if the E/A response doesn’t return; they never did.
In my opinion, those revelations discount the probability that the poison ivy claims are as acute and pervasive as claimed in the 2006 study. It gets worse because Adams suggests that there could be a short-term effect. I believe the following paragraph is wild conjecture:
Earlier this summer, wildfires in Canada turned skies over Central New York a hazy, apocalyptic orange. Adams speculates that the smoky air, laden with extra carbon dioxide from the fires, might have given poison ivy vines an additional boost.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website shows CO2 trends. The following graph shows the large seasonal variation in Hawaii. I could not find any short-term ambient concentration data for New York. I imagine it would show an even more pronounced seasonal fluctuation because there is little local production in the winter.
Frankly I would be surprised if local CO2 concentrations would have shown any effect of the wildfires because the local concentrations are dominated by local vegetation. The smoke showed up so markedly because the baseline was low. Even if I am wrong, wouldn’t the smoke have reduced the sunlight reducing photosynthesis? Ultimately, in the absence of local data showing a substantive increase in CO2 during the wildfire smoke episodes, there is no evidence supporting the claim the poison ivy growth was given a boost.
I have two issues with these articles. In the first place both authors do not understand the difference between weather and climate. In simple terms, climate is what you expect and weather is what you get. Any effect of climate change on hay harvesting weather or poison ivy growth this year was unlikely to be discernable relative to natural weather variability. Both authors presumed that there was a climate change effect but did not provide any evidence of it.
My second problem is that climate change was included for no apparent reason other than to further the climate threat narrative. Patrick Brown argued that:
To put it bluntly, climate science has become less about understanding the complexities of the world and more about serving as a kind of Cassandra, urgently warning the public about the dangers of climate change. However understandable this instinct may be, it distorts a great deal of climate science research, misinforms the public, and most importantly, makes practical solutions more difficult to achieve.
This problem with climate science research also permeates the mass media’s representation of climate change. The constant drumbeat of gloom, doom, and despair about climate change impacts associated with every unusual weather event is pushing the public into unwarranted concern and poor energy policy choices.
Roger Caiazza blogs on New York energy and environmental issues at Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York. This represents his opinion and not the opinion of any of his previous employers or any other company with which he has been associated.