Tag Archive for: climate change

Welcome to Climate Psychotherapy

Two nights ago I started to hug my wife. “Not tonight,” she said. 

“What’s wrong,” I asked. “Headache?”

“No,” she sighed. “Climate change.”

The temperature in the room dropped about 10 degrees.

“I see what you mean,” I said.

Ironically, the next morning, I opened the New York Times to an article by Brooke Jarvis. The title: “Climate Change Is Keeping Therapists Up at Night: How anxiety about the planet’s future is transforming the practice of psychotherapy.”

It began with the experience of one psychotherapist to bring issues into focus. He said that many potential patients are looking for someone to talk to about climate change, only to be told (by others, not him) that they are overreacting.

Climate Psychology Alliance of North America and Eco-Anxiety

Enter stage left a group of about 100 “climate-aware” psychotherapists who call themselves the Climate Psychology Alliance of North America. According to Jarvis, they primarily deal with three types of issues:

  • Acute trauma of living through climate disasters
  • Fear of a collapsing future
  • Psychosocial decay from disruptive changes.

Collectively, they call it “eco-anxiety” or “a chronic fear of environmental doom.”

It’s not clear from the rest of Jarvis’ story whether the psychotherapists have reached any consensus yet about how to treat this emerging malady.

Conflicting Info About Breadth of Concerns

Jarvis cites a nationally representative 2022 survey of more than 1,000 people from Yale and George Mason University. Researchers found that a majority of Americans (64%) say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming.

However, Jarvis does not report that the same research also found about 90% of Americans experience no distress at all about global warming.

Should psychotherapists bring climate concerns up even when clients don’t? That’s not clear either.

But the climate psychologists agree that they should validate their clients’ climate-related emotions as “reasonable, not pathological.” The climate shrinks believe they should make clients feel their fear is a “rational response to a world that’s very scary.”

Link between Eco-Reporting and Eco-Anxiety Not Examined

While not denying climate change, I also personally believe the threat may be artificially exaggerated.

The New York Times article does not examine eco-reporting that contributes to eco-anxiety. Some days, I’m afraid to open a newspaper because I may find Republicans can’t elect a speaker…due to climate change. (Just joking.)

Comments on the New York Times article seemed polarized. About half felt eco-anxiety was justified. The other half felt it was manufactured by media.

In that regard, I have previously posted about the Associated Press policy of taking money from foundations with interests in renewable energy to hire 20 reporters who focus on climate change.

Before the Internet undermined local newspapers, news organization sold advertising to generate revenue that paid employees. Ads clearly showed client’s logos. News organizations jealously guarded their editorial integrity; news almost never crossed the line into advertising.

That’s no longer the case. Now, 20 reporters are looking for any way possible to connect random weather events to climate change…using the most tenuous of threads. And if they can’t find one, they say, “So-and-so worries that climate change may make his problem worse in the future.” But they present no real statistical proof.

Not to make light of anyone’s feelings or circumstances, as I scrolled through other headlines this morning, I learned that…

Such stories are rapidly becoming a parody of themselves. Regardless…

Repetition Makes Claims Rise to Level of Assumed Truth

Through sheer repetition of such claims day after day, people assume their truth. Individual events such as a flood, drought, freeze, heatwave or windstorm may or may not exemplify larger trends. But reports rarely present actual proof they do.

Rather, they quote people who have suffered some kind of weather-related damage and who fear such events may become more common in the future…due to climate change.

Of course, who can disprove the future? That’s pretty safe ground for a reporter.

I asked one of the area’s leading psychotherapists in Houston to review the New York Times article. She replied, “Climate change didn’t come up once in my 40 years of private practice.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/22/23

2245 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Lee, Climatology, Data Truncation and the News

Noon, September 16, 2023 – An Associated Press headline this morning trumpeted “Climate change could bring more monster storms like Hurricane Lee to New England.” I immediately went to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) website to see the most current conditions. Lee had been downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone with 75 mph winds.

But it still covers a lot of territory. As of noon, Lee is producing 1-2 foot storm surge and tropical-storm-force winds in portions of Maine. NHC gave the northeastern tip of Maine a 5-15% chance of flash flooding. They predict 1-4 inches of rain over portions of the state that receive rain, though the extreme eastern tip may get up to 6 inches.

Satellite image shows Lee’s influence stretching from maritime Canada to New Jersey.

Does Climate Data Support AP Claim?

Next, I went to NHC’s Climatology page to see how unusual hurricanes are in New England. Because of the colder waters, they’re certainly not as frequent as hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. But they’re also not unusual as you can clearly see from the image below. It shows hurricane tracks going back to 1851.

Red lines show hurricanes with the winds from 64-90 mph.

Next, I looked at the points of origin for Atlantic storms in the 10-day period each season from Sept. 11 – 20.

Going back to 1851, we can see that dozens of storms have followed Lee’s path .

In fact, during September, there’s at least a 70% annual chance that a hurricane will affect this region (see below).

Lee’s track is THE most common for named storms in the Atlantic during September (red area).

Data goes from 1944 to 2020, but is normalized for 100 years. 1944 was the year NOAA started tracking hurricanes with aircraft.

The AP article related higher than normal sea surface temperatures to BOTH climate change and the risk of being affected by a hurricane in New England. It’s true that temperatures ARE above average off the New England coast this year. But it’s also true that temperatures cycle above and below an “average.” You can’t assume that sea surface temperatures ALWAYS increase.

This 28-second animation of sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies from 2002-2011 shows how temperatures vary monthly and annually around the world as well as off the coast of New England.

Starting point of animation is August 2002. Note below-normal sea-surface temps off New England coast.

During the decade covered by the animation, SSTs varied from above to below average five times by my count.

It’s fair to relate one stronger than normal hurricane to higher than normal sea surface temperatures. But it’s not valid to assume that hurricanes will continue to get stronger when sea surface temperatures decrease.

The Curse of Data Truncation

And that brings me to my gripe – data truncation in reporting. “Truncation” means “cutting short,” for instance, when you pick start or stop points in an analysis to prove the trend you allege.

Example: you point to above-normal SSTs (this year) and one waning post-tropical storm. Then you conclude that “climate change could bring more monster storms like Lee.”

The implication: climate change is linear and temperatures are going straight up. Therefore, we can expect more monster storms in New England – where Lee will not even make landfall.

Reporting Turned into Advocacy

AP is a great news organization. But on the issue of climate uncertainty, they have crossed the line between reporting and advocacy. AP even admits it.

To their credit, in 2022, AP announced “a sweeping climate change initiative.” They hired 20 additional journalists to supplement existing staff already dedicated to covering climate change. Their mission: “to infuse climate coverage in all aspects of the news…”

To help finance its climate coverage, AP accepts backing from several foundations, including the Rockefeller Foundation, which admits, “Our focus is on scaling renewable energy.”

I’m not saying that AP or the Rockefeller Foundation deliberately misled people to further an agenda.

However, I can promise you that writers write about what clients want them to write about. And if they don’t, well, hundreds of other writers are lined up ready to take their jobs.

This isn’t a conspiracy. It’s just the way the world works.

Other News Sources Delivered Different Interpretation

Everyone should read critically and consult multiple sources. Triangulate on the truth. Had you read someone else’s coverage, you would have reached totally different conclusions. In that regard, I note several stories posted AFTER AP’s story on Lee that did not even mention climate change once. See CNN, CBS, New York Times, NBC, Reuters, USA Today, or Fox, for instance.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/16/2023

2209 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Where to Find Reliable Climate Data

Where can you find reliable climate data if you want to cross check a claim you hear on the news? Harris County Meteorologist Jeff Lindner referred me to two sites recently: The U.S. Drought Monitor and the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (SCIPP) website. To help produce these resources, NOAA has collaborated with universities and state climate offices around the country. They make invaluable, data-driven resources for fact checking, research and public-policy planners.

Is It This Hot Everywhere?

It feels as though the lead story on the evening news every night for last two months has been the extreme heat in Phoenix. Simultaneously, the Houston area has experienced extreme heat and humidity, and the resurgence of drought conditions. The news stories inevitably tie any departure from “normal” to “climate change” and blame it on the burning of fossil fuels – usually without citing the source of their information.

So, imagine my surprise when I explored the U.S. Drought Monitor for the week of 7/25/23 and discovered that areas to the north and east of Texas were wetter and cooler than normal. “Record-setting rains were recorded over western Kentucky and the area had significant flooding,” they said. And “Temperatures were cooler than normal over most of the central Plains, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic with departures of 2-4 degrees below normal widespread.”

While the Southwest drought was accelerating last week in Texas, New Mexico and southern Arizona, it actually lessened/improved across a wide belt covering the middle of the country.

Climate Is an Average of Cycles

While still at U.S. Drought Monitor, I looked up Texas droughts since 2000.

Colors show the intensity of droughts and the time scale across the bottom shows their length and frequency.

Note the gaps between droughts. Also note how the relatively light gap from 2015 to 2019 corresponds to the Tax Day, Memorial Day, Harvey and Imelda floods we had during that period.

The graph below measures departures from average annual precipitation for the upper Texas Coast. This graph goes back to 1895. So to compare it to the one above, focus on the far right. Notice the big dip (brown area) around 2010, then the green peak that corresponds to the flood years.

128 years of precipitation data for the upper Texas Coast. Shows annual departures from (normal). From SCIPP.

Note how the largest brown area corresponds to the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s. But also note how peaks follow valleys in cycles.

While still on the SCIPP web site, I found another drought tool that lets you look up precipitation by date over various time periods. It’s still not fully functional yet. So far, they only have data for Louisiana. But when I looked up data for July 23-29, it compared the same week going back to 1900. The numbers below are less important than the dates associated with them in the last two columns.

Note how virtually all of the wettest and driest weeks on record occurred more than 90 years ago, before the rise of the internal combustion engine.

From SCIPP website “drought tool” page. Emphasis added.

Also note that some of the wettest weeks on record for Louisiana occurred during those Dust Bowl years; Louisiana was not part of the Dust Bowl geographically.

Elsewhere on the SCIPP site, I found pages and tools that let you compare rainfall and temperature by year and month. Here’s where we are so far for 2023.

But look at 2017, the year of Hurricane Harvey. They needed to establish a totally new vertical scale for rainfall!

The last SCIPP chart that I’ll discuss shows the average temperatures; daily highs/lows; minimums and maximums for any given reporting station.

NOAA defines “climate” as a 30-year moving average.

SCIPP has dozens of other useful tools for students, fact checkers, and weather bugs to explore.

What Causes Drought/Flood Cycles?

Various factors influence drought/flood cycles. They include climatic, environmental, and geological elements. Cycles are often region-specific and caused by multiple factors. According to ChatGPT, primary causes include:

  1. Climate variations, such as El Niño and La Niña
  2. Ocean currents and temperatures
  3. Atmospheric circulation patterns
  4. Topography and geography, such as mountains, proximity to large bodies of water, etc.
  5. Land use and vegetation changes, such as deforestation, urbanization, and agricultural practices (a major factor in the Dust Bowl years).
  6. Natural disasters, such as hurricanes
  7. Rainfall variability. Even absent climatic changes, certain regions naturally experience periods of higher or lower rainfall.
  8. Climate change, caused not just by emissions but the shape of the Earth’s orbit and wobble in the Earth’s axis.

Specific causes and interactions of these factors can vary from region to region.

In some cases, multiple factors may coincide, leading to more severe and prolonged drought or flood events.

Beware of generalizations about climate change based on individual events, short time periods, and isolated locations.

Climate Disasters in Historical Context

Understanding these complexities is essential for better preparedness and mitigation strategies to minimize the impacts of such natural cycles.

Climate disasters have existed for thousands of years. Go to the Four Corners area and visit Chaco Canyon, Canyon de Chelly or Mesa Verde. A prolonged drought contributed to wiping out the Anasazi culture a thousand years ago.

Likewise, the Texas shoreline has been advancing and retreating for millions of years. Sea levels can rise or fall more than a hundred meters between glacial periods.

“Glacial periods last tens of thousands of years. Temperatures are much colder, and ice covers more of the planet. On the other hand, interglacial periods last only a few thousand years and the climate conditions are similar to those on Earth today. We are in an interglacial period right now,” according to the American Museum of Natural History.

Sea levels can rise or fall more than a hundred meters between glacial cycles, which have existed for billions of years.

So when you hear the relentless drumbeat of “climate change” every day without data to back it up, now you know how to check whether the reporters did their homework.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/31/2023

2062 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Flood Map Accuracy

On December 6, 2022, The Washington Post ran an article titled “America Underwater: Extreme floods expose the flaws in FEMA’s risk maps.” The lengthy story by Samuel Oakford, John Muyskens, Sarah Cahlan and Joyce Sohyun Lee cross-referenced photos and videos with FEMA flood maps from areas around the country that flooded last summer.

The basic premise: FEMA’s flood maps “are failing to warn Americans about flood risk.” The authors then claim, “The resulting picture leaves homeowners, prospective buyers, renters and cities in the dark about the potential dangers they face, which insurance they should buy and what kinds of development should be restricted.”

There’s certainly room for improvement in FEMA flood maps.

FEMA Map from National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer. Note how mapping stops at Montgomery County line, one of the issues cited in The Post article.

But is Climate Change the Reason for Inaccuracy?

However, the authors blame climate change for the inaccuracy far more than other contributing factors which are far more obvious.

FEMA is supposed to update flood maps every 5-10 years. It’s hard to imagine climate change invalidating them in that time period.

Climate is an average of weather occurring over much longer time periods. Depending on whether you talk to a meteorologist or a geologist, the time period could range from 30 to millions of years.

At least five major ice ages have occurred throughout Earth’s history: the earliest was over 2 billion years ago, and the most recent one began approximately 3 million years ago and continues today (yes, we live in an ice age!). Currently, we are in a warm interglacial that began about 11,000 years ago. The last period of glaciation, often called the “Ice Age,” peaked about 20,000 years ago. At that time, the world was on average probably about 10°F colder than today.

Interestingly, one day after The Post article, the New York Times ran a story about the DNA of animals found frozen in the permafrost of northern Greenland, just a few hundred miles from the North Pole. The 135 different species scientists found there paint a picture of an arctic once lush with life typical of warmer climates today.

But another thing puzzles me. I see climate change often mentioned as the reason for drought. The US Geological Survey states, “Climate change has further altered the natural pattern of droughts, making them more frequent, longer, and more severe.” But The Post uses almost identical language to blame climate change for frequent flooding in many of the same general areas at the same time. Which is it?

And to what degree can climate change explain flood map inaccuracy? Many more obvious reasons exist that are less of a stretch for any inaccuracies.

Reasons Listed in Post Article for Inaccuracy of Maps

Here’s a list of the references in The Washington Post story used to explain inaccuracies found within FEMA maps. I’ve broken them into two groups so you can see the weight they gave to climate change.

Climate-Change References:
  1. “As climate change accelerates, it is increasing types of flooding that the maps aren’t built to include.”
  2. “Extreme precipitation events are growing increasingly common.”
  3. “A warming climate allows storms to carry more moisture, producing greater rain or snow in a short period of time.”
  4. “Climate has changed so much that the maps aren’t going to keep up.”
  5. Maps are out of date, some decades-old “in a changing climate.”
  6. “The effects of a changing climate.”
  7. Climate change impacts are getting worse.
  8. Climate change is “pushing FEMA’s maps beyond their limits.”
  9.  A gap exists between the data that goes into FEMA maps and current climate conditions.
  10. Climate change baseline is changing.
  11. “Climate change velocities are high.”
  12. “Maps do not take climate change into account.”
  13. “Overestimating the rarity of some events even before climate change…”
Other Possible Explanations Mentioned by The Post:
  1. “Communities may resist expanding designated flood zones because it adds costs and can hamper development.”
  2. Not all areas that flooded are mapped yet.
  3.  “Local communities often resist the expansion of federal flood zones”
  4. “Maps do not forecast flooding. Maps only reflect past flooding…”
  5. “Local governments have been opposed to any maps that show an increasing risk.”
  6. Relatively high imperviousness of gentrifying areas.
  7. Maps don’t reflect intense bursts of rainfall in a short period and the resulting street flooding.
  8. Impervious surface is replacing porous surface.
  9. Maps cover mainly coastal and riverine flooding.
  10. “Rain combining with melted snowpack.”
  11. FEMA flood maps don’t even attempt to model urban flooding
  12. “City neglected drainage problems.”
  13. Local opposition to expanding the floodplain.
  14. No sense of urgency to update maps.
  15. “Multiple compounding factors contribute to the flooding”

However, the article makes no mention of the mathematical limitations of Extreme Value Analysis, the key to understanding the uncertainties associated with rainfall probabilities.

Floods Can Also Be Explained Without Climate Change

The second group of references in The Post article seems far more immediate, compelling and easily provable when explaining any inaccuracy found in flood maps. They’re certainly typical of what I have found in the Houston area.

For the past five years I have been researching instances of flooding in and around Harris County. I published more than 250 articles on different aspects of the 2019 Elm Grove floods alone. And I don’t recall one person ever blaming those on climate change.

Elm Grove did not flood during Harvey, but did flood on two much smaller rains in 2019. The difference? Clearcutting and insufficiently mitigated upstream development. Contractors clearcut approximately 270 acres immediately north of Elm Grove without building sufficient detention capacity before the rains fell.

Similar stories – with variations – have played out over and over again throughout the Houston region. For instance, we see developers filling in wetlands. Exaggerating the infiltration rates of soils. Underestimating impermeable cover. Building in floodplains. Building to outdated codes and floodplain regulations. Being grandfathered under old regulations. Various jurisdictions refusing to update regulations. And more.

Regardless of your position on climate change, this discussion dramatizes the needs to:

  • Understand your local flood risk and the factors that affect it
  • Buy flood insurance.

Hopefully, Harris County Flood Control District’s MAAPnext project will address data deficiencies discussed in The Post article. But it will be years before those maps become official. And when they do, the landscape will have already changed.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/12/22

1931 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.