This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.
Well the comments would be remarkable for the Guardian if its readers followed, en masse, its political line on everything. I'm assuming this is not the case for any of the broadsheets. Being an old-fashioned liberal neither stops me reading the Torygraph or pouring scorn on some of the idiotic commentary the Guardian has produced over the years.
Any attempt to quantify deaths from anthropogenic global warming and balance it up against whatever the alternatives might be is doomed to failure, because saying that any particular event (hurricane, snowstorm etc) and deaths resulting has happened because of AGW and wouldn't have happened in the alternative scenario, seems pretty far-fetched. We might be able to get away with an analysis which results in either "negligible extra deaths compared to alternative scenarios 1, 2, 3...", or "a noticeably large amount of extra deaths ..." but I fear the assumptions are too many for any worthwhile predictions to be made - a bit like everything else to do with AGW.
The trend in climate propaganda is disturbing.
In a couple of other threads I have referred to the shipping pollution activities.
The policy makers are mostly not scientists and yet they depend on the science to inform their decisions.
This begs the question "how do we know we can trust the scientist?" especially when the "science" is actually epidemiology.
In the ship pollution instance the problem is the battle between treaty making, a global consensus, and rather more aggressive unilateral legislation.
Two of the pollutants to be reduced are NOX and SOX, both of which impact on health.
I found it useful to compare two reports:
"Long-Term Exposure to Air Pollution: Effect on Mortality" is a 192 page report for DEFRA which includes comments such as: "“It is our view that the associations reported in the literature linking long-term exposure to particulate air pollution, represented by PM2.5, and effects on mortality almost certainly represent causal relationships in respect of the air pollution mixture of which PM2.5 forms part, and are highly likely to be causal in terms of particulate air pollution specifically.”
It also draws conclusions explained typically as this:
"Estimate of effect in time-series studies based on a 1 μg/m3 reduction in annual mean PM10 assuming a coefficient of 0.075%, a loss of life expectancy of 2 to 6 months per death brought forward and a similar effect on all ages."
This is not my speciality but reading the report i found it persuasive. I felt that the report was a good example of the sort of information needed to formulate policy. I trusted it. It explained itself and even if the science is beyond me, and the "confidence levels" seemed a bit "optimised", it was what I expect serious research to produce. (of course, a scientist might disagree).
The actual comparison of mortality against pollution was not informative, cardio-vascular deaths, for example, have many causes. SO it was explained that they look at changes in pollution and examine the corresponding changes in mortality (mean age at death changing up or down by 2-6months for a 1 microgram/m3 pollution change). They establish these changes by comparing a population over time and by comparing urban and rural areas.
They even commented that in recent decades the contribution of industrial emissions has reduced due to the increasing separation between industrial and residential areas.
Fine. Unless you search for it, this report is probably not well known beyond the circle of policy makers and researchers and it has two factors that count against wider publicity; it is too long at 192 pages for a journalists to skim and there are no "money quotes" (the quotes that sell newspapers).
The second report is rather less convincing for several reasons. It is: "Mortality from Ship Emissions: A Global Assessment".
This report tries to assess the impact of shipping pollution on mortality rates. The major difference here is (a) very unreliable data on shipping pollution (in fact a recent report suggests the Mediterranean is far less affected than previously thought) but most importantly, the problem is to determine the amount of pollution produced at sea reaching the population on the land. For this there are a number of computer models.... need I say more?
I can't argue the science in this, I have no idea if the conclusions as to the impact are good or not but one thing is sure, I don't trust this report. Why? because it doesn't meet my expectations of how a report should be presented.
In this case the report achieved worldwide publicity. All the environmental websites, naturally, but also national papers, radio and TV. The BBC, naturally, produced a program about it (didn't see it). It had the impact of Orson Welles' "Martian Invasion Scare" and apparently the Guradian reported the government as rushing to reassure Canvey Island residents.
How did it achieve this instant fame?
Two reasons: It is just 7 pages long which includes several poor graphics and it has the money quote:
"Shipping causes 60,000 deaths a year."
The lead author has been widely interviewed and has come up with some fairly telling comments but the one I liked best was "70% of shipping pollution occurs within 400 kilometres of land." A meaningless statement. How much of that pollution reaches land is what is important. DEFRA says the safe level of NOX is 21ppb, a value that is rarely met in rural communities but which is, as an yearly average, exceeded in some urban communities with high traffic density. I could suggest that in the UK with nowhere further than 40miles from the sea, the migration of NOX from the Urban to the rural environment in any critical amounts seems not to happen so how can shipping (producing 3% of the anthropogenic NOX) impact from 400 kilometres away?
Of all the propagandist's ploys, the money quote based on research which has deniable or excusable scope for error, appears to be the most effective. 7 page report is readable and forgettable, all that is needed is the one phrase that is attributable and journalists can make up the rest as they usually do.
In the global warming scenario quoting deaths due to CO2 would appear difficult, in fact, we might suppose that it is actually beneficial. But, better 3 billion people should pay through the nose than 100 islanders should have to leave their island if it should, in fact, get flooded.
However, I have noted a trait on the environmentalist's web sites of confusing several different pollutants together; they talk of COX, NOX and SOX as one. This allows them to say things such as OCEANA does when it says:
"A switch from bunker fuel to marine diesel oil would result in drastic reduction in emissions in a variety of pollutants, including nitrous oxide, which is a powerful greenhouse gas pollutant ...........“
Very clever, NOX is a powerful greenhouse gas. However, Minnesota's Science Museum has this quote:
"....it is accepted that emission from burning stationary fossil fuel contributes less than 1% of the global source." and shipping produces just 3% of the fossil fuel burning NOX. It could produce 100% of it for all the impact on global warming that a switch in fuels will produce.
In the end, one concludes that the Guardian article is rather modest by comparison but is it more compelling?
NOAA links to research that points out hurricanes are not increasing and damages are actually lower than what they would be if hurricanes from 1926-1935 hit the US coast.
Could it be global warming saves lives? That would be bad news for the AGW (Alarmist Global Worriers).