All Politics Climate Is Local

by Marlo Lewis on January 4, 2011

in Blog

“All politics is local,” former House Speaker Tip O’Neil used to say. Accordingly, climate activists often emphasize the allegedly horrible impacts of global warming on the region, state, or locale of their target audience.

This is an old tactic. During the Clinton Administration, EPA and other agencies conducted a traveling road show touting model-projected “regional impacts” of climate change. Global warming would intensify hurricanes, EPA told Gulf Coast residents. It would destroy the ski and maple syrup industies, EPA told New Englanders. It would parch the southwest and intensify conflict over water resources, the agency told westerners.

 Showcasing the alleged “local links” of global climate change looked like a winning formula for while. Then came Climategate and the outing of cap-and-trade as a stealth energy tax.

What’s surprising is not that this tactic failed to sell cap-and-tax but that Obama Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes seems to think it’s a novel approach — one that could put new wind in the sails of the good ship Kyoto.

In “Climate PR Efforts Heat Up,” Politico columnist Darren Samuelsohn reports:

Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes said in an interview that the Obama administration is engaged on several levels in climate education by bringing the latest science to land, water and wildlife managers. He cited an 11-year old water shortage in the Colorado River Basin. “It’s one of the worst droughts in history,” Hayes said. “And we’re bringing the data to the table.”

This statement puzzled me, since it is well established in the literature that the American West experienced severe droughts centuries before the advent of SUVs and coal-fired power plants. So I did a quick search at www.CO2Science.Org, Web site of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, where Drs. Sherwood, Keith, and Craig Idso review scores of peer-reviewed science studies each year. Below are excerpts from a few of their reviews.

Colorado Stream Flow: Its Past and Likely Future [Review of Woodhouse, C.A. and Lukas, J.J. 2006. Multi-century tree-ring reconstructions of Colorado streamflow for water resource planning. Climatic Change 78: 293-315.]

Woodhouse and Lukas’ streamflow reconstructions indicated, in their words, that “the 20th century gage record does not fully represent the range of streamflow characteristics seen in the prior two to five centuries.” Of greatest significance, in this regard, was probably the fact that “multi-year drought events more severe than the 1950s drought have occurred,” and that “the greatest frequency of extreme low flow events occurred in the 19th century,” with a “clustering of extreme event years in the 1840s and 1850s.”

This being the case, it can be appreciated that predictions of abnormal (relative to the past hundred or so years) perturbations of both types of conditions (dry and wet) likely will see fulfillment … but it will not be because of CO2-induced global warming, for atmospheric CO2 concentration and air temperature were both significantly lower than they were throughout the 20th century during the prior centuries that experienced the greatest natural variability in streamflow.

A Brief History of Upper Colorado Basin Stream Flow [Review of Woodhouse, C.A., Gray, S.T. and Meko, D.M. 2006. Updated streamflow reconstructions for the Upper Colorado River Basin. Water Resources Research 42: 10.1029/2005WR004455.]

Woodhouse et al. determined that the major drought of 2000-2004, “as measured by 5-year running means of water-year total flow at Lees Ferry … is not without precedence in the tree ring record,” and that “average reconstructed annual flow for the period 1844-1848 was lower.” They also report that “two additional periods, in the early 1500s and early 1600s, have a 25% or greater chance of being as dry as 1999-2004,” and that six other periods “have a 10% or greater chance of being drier.”

“Overall,” in the words of the three researchers, “these analyses demonstrate that severe, sustained droughts are a defining feature of Upper Colorado River hydroclimate.” In fact, they conclude from their work that “droughts more severe than any 20th to 21st century event occurred in the past,” meaning the preceding few centuries.

Southern California, USA[Review of MacDonald, G.M., Kremenetski, K.V. and Hidalgo, H.G. 2008. Southern California and the perfect drought: Simultaneous prolonged drought in Southern California and the Sacramento and Colorado River systems. Quaternary International 188: 11-23.]

The authors developed dendrochronological reconstructions of the winter Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) for southern California over the past one thousand years (first figure below), plus concomitant annual discharges of the Sacramento and Colorado Rivers (second figure below). This work revealed, in their words, that “prolonged perfect droughts (~30-60 years), which produced arid conditions in all three regions simultaneously, developed in the mid-11th century and the mid-12th century during the period of the so-called ‘Medieval Climate Anomaly’,” which is also widely known as the Medieval Warm Period, leading them to conclude that “prolonged perfect droughts due to natural or anthropogenic changes in radiative forcing, are a clear possibility for the near future.” Consequently, since the perfect droughts of the 20th century “generally persist[ed] for less than five years,” while those of the MWP lasted 5 to 12 times longer, one could reasonably conclude that late 20th-century warmth was significantly less than that of the central portion of the Medieval Warm Period.


Fluctuating Water Supply of the Colorado River Basin [Review of Hidalgo, H.G., Piechota, T.C. and Dracup, J.A.  2000.  Alternative principal components regression procedures for dendrohydrologic reconstructions.  Water Resources Research 36: 3241-3249.]

. . . in the words of the authors, that there has been “a near-centennial return period of extreme drought events in this region,” going all the way back to the early 1500s.

These results provide yet another indication of the cyclical nature of climate.  They also provide evidence for the existence of past droughts, which – if they were to begin today and last as long as they have in the past – would surely be ascribed to the result of CO2-induced global warming, when, in reality, they are totally unrelated to what the air’s CO2 content is doing.

Upper Colorado River Basin (USA) Super Megadrought of the Mid-1100s [Review of Meko, D.M., Woodhouse, C.A., Baisan, C.A., Knight, T., Lukas, J.J., Hughes, M.K. and Salzer, M.W. 2007. Medieval drought in the upper Colorado River Basin. Geophysical Research Letters 34: 10.1029/2007GL029988.]

Using a newly developed network of tree-ring sites located within the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB) of the western United States – which consists of tree-ring samples from living trees, augmented by similar samples obtained from logs and dead standing trees (remnant wood) – the authors extended the record of reconstructed annual flows of the Colorado River at Lee Ferry, Arizona, into the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) . . .

. . . they say that “conditions in the mid-1100s in the UCRB were even drier than during the extremely widespread late-1500s North American mega-drought (Stahle et al., 2000). 

One of the major tenets of Al Gore’s “climate crisis,” as articulated in his testimony of 21 March 2007 to the U.S. Senate, is that “droughts are becoming longer and more intense” in response to global warming. On the one hand, we could say this claim is refuted by the late-1500s North American megadrought described by Stahle et al. (2000), which occurred during the Little Ice Age. On the other hand, we could say it is confirmed by the super-megadrought described by Meko et al., which occurred during the Medieval Warm Period. But if this latter route is taken, the temperature-drought correlation claimed by Gore suggests that the Medieval Warm Period was likely much warmer than the Current Warm Period (a concept climate alarmists absolutely abhor), which has seen nothing even remotely similar to the mid-1100s drought. In terms of drought extremes, therefore, any way one looks at this aspect of Al Gore’s climate crisis claim, it rings mighty hollow throughout much of North America.

So there you have it. Colorado River Basin drought is nothing new under the Sun. Neither is the local nature of politics. Neither is fear-mongering as a tool of political advocacy.

H.L. Menkin said it best:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.


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