The National Science Foundation press release Cause of California drought linked to climate change found its way into the mainstream media, with science reporters around the globe adding their hype. That press release is based on the recently published study Swain et al. (2014) “The Extraordinary California Drought of 2013/2014: Character, Context and the Role of Climate Change”, which can be found in the Special Supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS report)Vol. 95, No. 9, September 2014, Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 From A Climate Perspective.
I’ll publish a few comments about Swain et al. (2014) in a few days. But this post is not about that paper.
THE CALIFORNIA DROUGHT – WHO’S TO BLAME FOR THE LACK OF PREPAREDNESS?
As I was reading Anthony Watts excellent post about Swain et al. (2014), Claim: Cause of California drought linked to climate change – not one mention of ENSO or El Niño, a number of reoccurring thoughts replayed, thoughts that have struck me numerous times as the Western States drought unfolded last year and intensified this year.
Was California prepared for a drought?
Obviously, California was not prepared for a drought this intense, and the impacts of that lack of preparedness on California residents will grow much worse if the drought continues.
Why wasn’t California prepared for a short-term (multiyear) drought this intense?
The realistic blame should be the focus of climate science in general under the direction of the IPCC. In the opening paragraph of the IPCC’s History webpage, they state (my boldface and caps):
Today the IPCC’s role is as defined in Principles Governing IPCC Work, “…to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of HUMAN-INDUCED climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.
The fact that the IPCC has focused all of their efforts on “understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change” is very important. The IPCC has never realistically tried to determine if natural factors could have caused most of the warming the Earth has experienced over the past century. For decades, they’ve worn blinders that blocked their views of everything other than the possible impacts of carbon dioxide. The role of the IPCC has always been to prepare reports that support the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels. As a result, that’s where all of the research money goes. The decision to only study human-induced global warming is a political choice, not a scientific one. In efforts to justify agendas, politicians around the world jumped on the climate change stump and funded computer model-based studies of human-induced global warming…to the tune of billions of dollars annually.
Because of that political agenda, the latest and greatest climate models still cannot simulate the basic underlying processes that govern the naturally occurring, coupled ocean-atmosphere processes like ENSO (El Niños and La Niñas), like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation…processes that have strong influences on temperature and precipitation in west coast states. So there is no possible way climate models, as they exist today, could forecast what precipitation might be like in the future there. And that basic problem will persist until there is a redirection of climate-research funding. Yes, funding. Research follows the money.
What value do climate model-based studies provide?
The paper Pierce et al. (2013) The Key Role of Heavy Precipitation Events in Climate Model Disagreements of Future Annual Precipitation Changes in California provides an overview of why the climate models have no value when it comes to forecasts like California drought. In their abstract Pierce et al. write (my boldface and caps):
Of the 25 downscaled model projections examined here, 21 agree that precipitation frequency will DECREASE by the 2060s, with a mean reduction of 6–14 days yr−1. This reduces California’s mean annual precipitation by about 5.7%. Partly offsetting this, 16 of the 25 projections agree that daily precipitation intensity will INCREASE, which accounts for a model average 5.3% increase in annual precipitation. Between these conflicting tendencies, 12 projections show drier annual conditions by the 2060s and 13 show wetter.
[Hat tip to blogger “Jimbo” on the WUWT thread Claim: Cause of California drought linked to climate change – not one mention of ENSO or El Niño.]
So some climate models say that daily precipitation intensity will increase and others say it will decrease. In other words, the climate science community is clueless about what the future might bring for west coast precipitation.
Some might say that climatologists for the State of California and other west coast states have been hampered by climate science. It’s tough to make recommendations to state and local governments for long-term planning when the climate science community provides them with nothing to work with.
Is California prepared for a drought that lasts multiple decades or even centuries?
Anthony Watts’s post included a graph from a paleoclimatological study of West Coast drought that showed past droughts have lasted for hundreds of years. For the original graph and discussion, see Figure 10 of Cook et al. (2007) North American drought: Reconstructions, causes, and consequences. (Note: That’s not the John Cook from SkepticalScience.)
Now I hate to make you think about bad news. But if it’s happened in the past, can it happen again?
Why are mainstream media simply parroting press releases?
Climate-change news reports have become echo chambers of the press releases put out by colleges, universities and government research agencies. Individual reporters might provide a more in-depth report by asking the scientist-authors for a few extra word of wisdom.
But why aren’t the media asking the tough questions, like:
- Why weren’t west-coast residents warned 10 or 15 years ago that a severe drought is just a weather anomaly away?
- Why aren’t there enough desalinization plants in place to supplement rainfall deficits?
- Why are the people of the west coast protesting for, and why are state governments funding, more wind farms and solar arrays when they need something more basic to maintain life there, water?
Seems to me we may very soon be seeing a reversal of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, with vast flocks of California residents migrating back to the Midwest, which also is subject to periodic droughts.
Poor planning on the parts of a few—based on politically motivated, unsound science—may make for emergencies for millions.