Last week this tweet caught my attention.
It goes back to the article: You Break It, You Fix It: Why Carbon Polluters Should Pay for Hurricane Damage.
On the one hand I can image what they are talking about, but on the other hand I think it is not as simple as they show it.
This is what I can understand: if I go to a china shop and break a vase, then I will have to dig up my wallet and pay for the damage. The price tag of the vase at that time is the amount of money that will go off my bank account. If I bump into the vase and it falls down there is no doubt that I was the culprit. Action and reaction. Action and direct reaction. But in the real world this is not as sharply aligned as in above example. With hurricanes things are a lot less clear. This direct action/reaction is absent.
This is how the article puts it: the emission of CO2 drives the temperature rise (they call it with its name: “global warming”) which raises sea level rise and this makes hurricanes stronger (because of a higher surge).
There are some problems with this. Although CO2 is increasing and at the highest point in the last century, there is a pause in global temperature of a decade and a half. So much for CO2 causing global warming. Also hurricanes seem to be declining. Sandy and Irene were hyped big time and no attention that they became rare examples. Compare that with the end of last century when CO2 levels were much lower.
The sea level is rising, at least in most places, but it was already rising before CO2 got traction in the 1950s-1960s. What part is natural and what part is anthropogenic?
Even the IPCC was not really confident about attribution of hurricanes and climate sensitivity. Although they didn’t say it with that many words, they lowered the climate sensitivity (the warming we could expect for a doubling of CO2 levels). If this is much lower then previously assumed and no warming was observed in the last 1.5 decade and hurricanes are on the decrease, how can this CO2 then be the main culprit of those hurricane damages?
The example of the china chop was not really a good one. It would be a good analogy when man is causing hurricanes. Even the article doesn’t say that. They say man makes it worse. So, suppose the vases in that shops fall to smithereens on a regular basis for whatever reason. If the person now comes into the shop and a specific vase drops to the ground, how much was the person responsible for the falling of that specific vase?
Now more philosophically: assume that CO2 is really linked with hurricane damages and carbon emitters have to pay for the damages. What if there are less (stronger) hurricanes. Do they get a, ahem, refund?
When thinking about it more deeper, the link between CO2 and hurricanes is not clear as the writers of the tweet and the article want us to believe. It involves lots of assumptions and ignoring observational data. Saying “carbon polluters” should pay for the damages of hurricanes implies a clear connection which just is not there. But it sure sounds nice and powerful. Let’s say this is more a political message rather than a scientific one.