Guest Column: Severe Weather, Climate Change Not Linked

Congressman Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio), who will take over as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
Congressman Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio), who will take over as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

In today’s 24-hour news cycle, it often feels like there’s always some sort of hurricane, flood or tornado wreaking havoc in the U.S. These events can have a devastating impact on our economy and on our communities. But too often we hear politicians and the media claim these events have become more frequent and more extreme due to carbon emissions by humans.

The Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency want you to believe that devastating storms are caused by climate change. The president recently linked a warming climate to “more extreme droughts, floods, wildfires and hurricanes.” But these assertions are contradicted by scientific facts. They are just scare tactics used to justify costly new regulations.

In reality, there is little science to support any connection between climate change and more frequent or extreme storms. According to the foremost scientific body on the topic, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there is now “high agreement” among leading experts that long-term trends in weather disasters are not caused by human-made climate change.

Nor have hurricanes increased in the U.S. in frequency, intensity or normalized damage since at least 1900. And the U.S. currently has gone seven years without a Category 3 or stronger hurricane making landfall. This is the longest streak ever recorded.

Government data also indicates no association between climate change and tornado activity. Whether measured by the number of strong tornadoes, tornado-related fatalities or economic losses associated with tornadoes, the latter half of the 20th century shows no climate-related trend.

The data on droughts paints a similar picture. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that “climate change was not a significant part” of the recent drought in Texas. And the IPCC found that "in some regions droughts have become less frequent, less intense, or shorter, for example, central North America.” IPCC’s latest report also states there is “low confidence” in any climate-related trends involving flood magnitude or frequency.

So if science doesn’t support a link between extreme weather events and climate change, why do politicians and so many in the media keep making exaggerated claims?

To drum up support for costly, unnecessary regulations and subsidies, activists stretch the truth. They want people to believe that strict new policies and regulations can decrease the intensity of hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and floods. But that’s a scare tactic that should be dismissed.

We need to look at the science and be honest about the uncertainties associated with climate change. Contrary to even the most sophisticated climate models, climate change has been far less severe than predicted. Nearly every major temperature record shows that global temperatures have held steady for the last 15 years.

Climate change is due to a combination of factors, including natural cycles, solar activity and human actions. And scientists disagree about how much each of these factors contributes to the overall climate change.

We are fortunate to have a beautiful planet, and as a global community, we should promote policies that protect our environment. But we must set aside science fiction and focus on the facts.

A better approach to address climate change is to place a higher priority on fundamental research that will enable new energy technologies to become more cost effective. In order to impact global emissions, we must shift from costly subsidies and regulations to research and technological solutions that will be used not only here but around the world. In other words, let’s set aside the fiction and focus on a real solution.

Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, represents Congressional District 21 in the U.S. House and is chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.