Extreme weather isn’t linked to climate change

Those who want the U.S. to pursue policies to cut carbon emissions by making our energy more expensive often falsely associate severe weather events with climate change. Even President Obama resorted to these tactics when he linked a warming climate to “more extreme droughts, floods, wildfires and hurricanes,” in a recent weekly address.

But there is little science to support any connection between climate change and more frequent or extreme storms. And contrary to climate models, climate change has been far less severe than predicted.

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According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there is “high agreement” among leading experts that long-term trends in weather disasters are not attributable to human-caused climate change. 

Hurricanes have not increased in the U.S. in frequency, intensity or normalized damage since at least 1900. The U.S. currently has gone seven years without a Category 3 or stronger hurricane making landfall. This is the longest streak ever recorded. 

Government data also indicate no association between climate change and tornado activity. Whether measured by the number of strong tornadoes, tornado-related fatalities or economic losses associated with tornadoes, the latter half of the 20th century shows no climate-related trend.

The data on droughts paint a similar picture. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that “Climate change was not a significant part” of the recent drought in Texas. And the IPCC found that “in some regions droughts have become less frequent, less intense, or shorter, for example, central North America ….” IPCC’s draft report also states there is “low confidence” in any climate-related trends for flood magnitude or frequency on a global scale.

So if science doesn’t support a link between extreme weather events and climate change, why do so many media and politicians keep making exaggerated claims? 

To drum up support for costly, unnecessary regulations and subsidies, activists stretch the truth. They want people to believe that these policies will decrease the intensity of hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and floods. But that’s a scare tactic that needs to stop. 

Unfortunately, with activists and the mainstream media, there is no room for reasoned, logical debate. Anyone who questions the planet’s sensitivity to CO2 or the extent to which humans contribute to climate change is labeled a climate change “denier.” 

Climate change is due to a combination of factors, including natural cycles and human activity. But scientists still disagree about how much each of these factors contributes to the overall climate change the Earth is experiencing.

But understanding the causes of climate change is critical to developing a serious and effective solution.

With emissions increasing in developing nations and decreasing in the U.S., America’s contribution to greenhouse gas concentrations is increasingly insignificant. In fact, data from the Energy Information Administration show that between 2005 and 2012, the U.S. cut carbon dioxide emissions by 12 percent. At the same time, global emissions increased by 15 percent. And even the EPA concedes that substantial cuts to America’s emissions are unlikely to affect future temperature changes.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has spent more than $77 billion on climate research between 2008 and 2013. Despite dire forecasts, nearly all major temperature records show that global temperatures have held steady for the last 15 years.

Across the board, our most sophisticated climate models have overestimated warming. A recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change compared 117 climate predictions made in the 1990s to the actual amount of warming experienced. Out of 117 predictions, only three were relatively accurate. The other 114 overestimated temperature rise. As a respected climate scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, John Christy, said “The Earth system is just too complex to be represented in current climate models.”

We are fortunate to have a beautiful planet and, as a global community, we should promote policies that protect our environment. But we must set aside partisan rhetoric and focus on the facts.

President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency recently released carbon pollution standards for new power plants that, even the EPA admits “will result in negligible CO2 emission changes.” These regulations will increase the price of electricity and gasoline in the U.S. Why pursue unnecessary costly regulations that will hurt working families for no significant environmental benefit?

A better approach is to place a higher priority on fundamental research that will enable new energy technologies to become more cost-effective. In order to impact global emissions, we must shift from costly subsidies and regulations to research and technological solutions that will be used not only here, but around the world. In other words, let’s set aside the fiction and focus on a real solution. 

Smith has represented Texas’s 21st Congressional District since 1987. He is chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, and he serves on the Homeland Security and Judiciary committees.