05 Jul 2009

Knappenberger Takes on Krugman on Climate

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Over at MasterResource climate researcher Chip Knappenberger takes on Paul Krugman’s op ed where he pulled an Ann Coulter and accused his enemies of treason. Here was my favorite part:

[CHIP:] Krugman completely misinterprets the science on Americans’ response to heat waves. He said:

[KRUGMAN:] Temperature increases on the scale predicted by the M.I.T. researchers and others would create huge disruptions in our lives and our economy. As a recent authoritative U.S. government report points out, by the end of this century New Hampshire may well have the climate of North Carolina today, Illinois may have the climate of East Texas, and across the country extreme, deadly heat waves — the kind that traditionally occur only once in a generation — may become annual or biannual events.

In other words, we’re facing a clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself. How can anyone justify failing to act?

[CHIP:] Well, how about this justification—the hottest places in the U.S. are the ones which experience the fewest number of deaths during heat waves. We have shown this on repeated occasions (in the scientific literature, see references below) in research that I have been involved with examining the relationship between excessive heat and human mortality. Not only did we show that the nations hottest (both in terms of temperature and humidity) cities, for example, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Tampa, Miami, have the lowest incidences of heat-related mortality in the country, but that in major cities all across the country, the population has grown less sensitive to heat waves even as urban temperatures have increased over the past four decades or so (Figure 1).

Clearly, what is happening is that as high temperatures become more commonplace, we better incorporate them into our daily lives—through better access to air-conditioning, community awareness programs, heat watch/warning programs, improved medical technologies, and just plain common sense. And, as has been shown in examples from Chicago (Palecki et al., 2001) and France (Fouillet et al., 2008), these adaptations can take place quickly. It is the rare and unexpected heat wave that kills people, not the common ones. So Krugman’s meant-to-scare example about “deadly heat waves” runs counter to the best science on the subject.

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