William McKibben, a distinguished scholar at Middlebury College, was president of the Crimson some years before me, and the few times I have met him he's been totally nice. I've bought and read and enjoyed some of his books. But his piece today in the Washington Post is disappointing. It sarcastically instructs readers not to ask about a link between the tornadoes and climate change, because, "you might have to ask other questions. Such as: Should President Obama really just have opened a huge swath of Wyoming to new coal mining? Should Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sign a permit this summer allowing a huge new pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta?" and "If you got upset about any of this, you might forget how important it is not to disrupt the record profits of our fossil fuel companies."
It's always fun to see Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton being criticized from the left, and to see those on the left being straightforward about their goal that American businesses will earn smaller profits. But if Mr. McKibben has proof that the tornadoes were caused by the use of gasoline or by other human, fossil-fuel-related activity, he'd be more persuasive if he laid it out, rather than just making sarcastic cracks about those who don't agree with his assessment. After all, it's not just free market types like George Mason University economics professor Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek who reject the idea that "climate change" and the tornadoes are linked; the Agence France Presse, not exactly a headquarters of the right wing conspiracy, ran a piece picked up by Yahoo! News headlined "No link between tornadoes and climate change":
top US weather experts said Monday there is no link between the violent twisters and climate change.
Instead, the reasons for the spiking death tolls are more likely due to the rise in the population density, the number of mobile homes and the chance paths taken by a series of tornadoes that have happened to target populated areas.
The article quotes Harold Brooks, research meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma.
While plenty of questions are being posed, none seem to point at climate change as a driver, and the La Nina phenomenon's effect is minimal, said Brooks.
When scientists examine the most complete records available and adjust for changes in how tornadoes were reported over time, "we see no correlation between global or US national temperature and tornado occurrence," Brooks said.
Nor are the storms themselves getting larger than they used to be...
The overall tornado record does not show a steadily increasing trend toward bigger, deadlier storms, he said.
For instance, "2009 was a really low year for tornadoes. Some recent years have been big, some recent years have been small," he said.