The building where I work has a sophisticated fire alarm system. It is incredibly sensitive and on a regular basis the alarm went off, without having a fire. In the beginning everybody fled the building as quick as possible and then later got to hear that it was just a false alarm. A lot of things could trigger it. Some dust, high humidity in a room,… After a while people didn’t react to it anymore. When an alarm sounded again, someone went to the control box and muted the alarm. As far as I can see, the control is now disabled for quite a while.
I had to think about this when I watched the alarmentory “Before The Flood” from Leonardo DiCaprio. The movie is 1 hours 35 minutes long and as expected it is one-sided, superficial and rather predictable. It is a rehash of the usual style of images that the media is bombarding us with for several decades. Smoking chimney, cars, storms, wildfires, floods, droughts, melting ice, mass migration, coral reefs, the news flashes in the background describing the extremes,… All attributed to our emissions.
In the movie, several examples are shown that present the effects of climate change, like for example the loss of harvest because of unseasonal rain in India. This unseasonal rain is seen as the beginning of climate change and then connected to CO2. How unfortunate these unseasonal rains might be, they are happening within a complex, coupled, chaotic system with an incredible amount of variables. Yet in the movie it is reduced to just one: CO2.
I have no problem believing that climate change exists, even that man could have some influence on it. But I very much doubt that unseasonal rains will stop happening when we reduce or even stop emissions and the people of India will live happily ever after.
The same with the other examples of wildfires, floods, droughts,… I doubt that it is scientifically possible to attribute any of these extreme events to just one variable in a vastly complex system.
The cliches are strong in this movie. The depictions of those bad, bad skeptics, who are of course paid by Big Oil and degrading the Earth for their own short-term gain, the absolute certainties in which the science is brought, confusing pollution with CO2, the gish-galopping its proposed effects,… DiCaprio even mentioned that before our emissions we had “a perfect planet with a perfect atmosphere” and the scientist he interviewed acknowledged…
Although the movie was quite boring (we have seen these images many, many times before), when looking at it with my own background in mind, there are some interesting things I recognized. I predict a new series of posts in my direct future…
Nevertheless, I will have to admit that the movie is well-made. The images are crisp, the scenario is flowing, the music helps to bring the message home, DiCaprio is presenting his struggle which finally culminates into the speech at the end. From that perspective, it is brilliantly made. DiCaprio definitely knows how to tell a story.
The movie may be a new and nicely sounding alarm, but it was not the sound of the alarm that was the problem in the first place. The problem is that the alarm goes off even when there is no fire and this is what the movie is doing.
The problem with the fire alarm system was that it was incorrectly calibrated. I have known such systems in retirement apartments, where if you grill burgers, or slightly burn the toast, then the alarm will go off. This means forty elderly folks are dragged outside, maybe in the rain and the cold whilst half a dozen firemen check the building. So many old folks stop having toast, or nervously watch it cook.
With human caused climate change the sensitivity is human-based. Every extreme weather event is exaggerated, and can become some sort of record. To really determine if weather is becoming more extreme you need long term detailed records from across the planet for many different aspects of weather, with many different ways of looking at each type. Examining these there will be many extreme events in any one year, along with >99% of data points that are not exceptional. You will then notice some records may shown divergent trends. But it is only when many of the divergent trends often going in a more extreme and adverse direction that you can say the climate as a whole is getting worse. For instance, if global warming means for Northern Europe mostly warmer winters, this can hardly be worse, neither can increased rain showers in the Mediterranean.
Of course there is much more film footage available of extreme weather events, as there is of every unscheduled event. But this gives a false sense of what the trends really are.
I also think the alarm system at work is not correctly calibrated. However, it learned me that those false alarms make people “tune out”. After a string of false alarms, people start neglecting it. I was surprised how fast that happens.
In this post I questioned whether such movies have the intended effect or whether they contribute members of the public to “tune out”. From my experience with the alarm system at work, I assume it will be the latter. In the movie this tuning out was seen as a problem, but my guess is that such movies are partly responsible for this tuning out… How beautiful or professionally they are made. An alarm is an alarm, whether it has a beautiful shape and a pleasant tone or a vanilla shape and an irritant sound.
It is also my view that this impression of increasing extreme events is rooted in the increase of footage of such events. This includes also the repetition of these events in these movies (like the rapid succession of images of extreme events), giving the impression that such occurrences are on the increase.
Nothing like a rehash of nothing. If you look at the data it’s clear that nothing meaningful can be said of the extreme weather. There is simply too much noise. And the truly amazing thing is that in saying that…I miss out on the opportunity to exploit the observable fact in almost all extreme weather data that if a trend IS present, it almost always runs in the opposite direction…ie, getting better. Fewer droughts and floods, fewer hurricanes, etc.
And once again today (on another forum) I found myself needing to dig out the tide gage data as someone claimed yet again (as usually happens in movies like the one you’re talking about) that some area was suffering already from the catastrophy of sea level rise. In this case it was Florida and of course I was down-voted for pointing out that there is no change in trend in sea level rise over this record…even though over 80% of all emissions happened after 1950 and the anthropogenic signal (supposedly) only became noticeable in the noise of the data in the 80s or 90s. But of course, there it is in all it’s glory…100 years of the same old rate http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/sltrends/sltrends_station.shtml?stnid=8724580
I wish I’d thought to bookmark the video…one of the most laughable attempts at “science” I ever saw was with a female scientist talking at a senate (or congressional) hearing about how extreme events were increasing. The representative questioning her brought out the actual data…in which it was crystal clear there was no trend or that the trend was in fact negative…
…and she literally sat there and explained that no, it was actually increasing, just in a way that basically couldn’t be demonstrated either with the data or extracted with statistics. W…T…F…
It is a recognizable rehash. If you seen one of those movies, you seen them all.
I agree that it is not exactly justified. As you said, looking at the data it is also my impression that events like strong hurricanes, droughts,… are not on the increase, yet are perceived as such. I think that this perception is the result of for example the increase of the footage of such events (see previous comment).