Wrong, PBS and AP, Climate Change Isn’t Worsening Floods or Droughts

Originally posted at ClimateREALISM

A recent article published by The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS) claims that “floods and droughts are worsened by climate change.” Various lines of evidence and hard data falsify this claim.

The article, originally by Isabella O’Malley, of the Associated Press (AP) was carried on the PBS Newshour website with the title “Scientists confirm global floods and droughts worsened by climate change”

The article leads with this alarming claim:

The intensity of extreme drought and rainfall has “sharply” increased over the past 20 years, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Water. These aren’t merely tough weather events, they are leading to extremes such as crop failure, infrastructure damage and even humanitarian crises.

The big picture on water comes from data from a pair of satellites known as GRACE, or Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, that were used to measure changes in Earth’s water storage — the sum of all the water on and in the land, including groundwater, surface water, ice, and snow.

For good measure, O’Malley adds this unsupportable claim:

The researchers say the data confirms that both the frequency and intensity of rainfall and droughts are increasing due to burning fossil fuels and other human activity that releases greenhouse gases.

“I was surprised to see how well correlated the global intensity was with global mean temperatures,” said Matthew Rodell, study author and deputy director of Earth sciences for hydrosphere, biosphere, and geophysics at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

As any professional scientist will tell you, correlation is not causation. Wikipedia says, “The phrase “correlation does not imply causation” refers to the inability to legitimately deduce a cause-and-effect relationship between two events or variables solely on the basis of an observed association or correlation between them.”

For example, data in this graph in Figure 1 correlates nearly perfectly, but anyone can tell you that the two data items plotted, Ice Cream Sales and Shark Attacks, have no cause-and-effect relationship.

Figure 1. A highly correlated graph with no relationship between the two datasets. Source: Statology.org

There are other problems with the article, most notably the time period of data involved – 20 years – which by definition does not meet the 30-year period required to determine a climate trend.

Worse than that, the article reports, “Researchers looked at 1,056 events from 2002-2021 using a novel algorithm that identifies where the land is much wetter or drier than normal.” In other words, in addition to the lack of 30-years of data, this study used a “novel algorithm” that has not been applied to other areas or the same areas in the past for a proper comparison of past and present climate trends and any changes over time.

Also, this data is from a satellite designed to measure variations in Earth’s gravity, not climate change. Therefore, the data produced isn’t a direct measurement, but a proxy for what has happened with droughts and floods assumptions about how gravity changes. These three glaring inconsistencies with regular climate science procedures fail to instill trust in the methods used in, or the conclusions come to, in this particular study.

Real-world data, actually measured on Earth over multiple decades, contradicts the claims made in the study and the AP/PBS story reporting on it. For example, data on drought in the United States, presented in Climate at a Glance: Drought, show no increasing drought trend whatsoever since January 1895. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports with “high confidence” that precipitation has increased over mid-latitude land areas of the Northern Hemisphere (including the United States) during the past 70 years, while IPCC has “low confidence” about any negative trends globally.

Likewise, when it comes to flooding, The IPCC reports it has “low confidence” climate change is impacting flooding. The U.N. IPCC admits having “low confidence” in even the “sign” of any changes—in other words, it is just as likely that climate change is making floods less frequent and less severe.

The latter point highlights another grievous error made in the study hyped by PBS – the researchers involved conflated precipitation and flooding.

The IPCC report indicates climate change is not a factor in flooding. As Roger Pielke, Jr., said in his summary and analysis of the report, (bold, the author’s)

Heavy precipitation: “the frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation have likely increased at the global scale over a majority of land regions with good observational coverage … [yet] “heavier rainfall does not always lead to greater flooding.”

To make claims about trends in flooding, one should look at trends in flooding and not precipitation. The conflation of the two is a common error.

Also of note, what flooding has occurred, has been impact-minimized as costs of flooding have decreased over the last century, as seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Cost of U.S. Flood Events since 1903 through 2018. Dotted red line indicates the trend.

While the rest of the world may not have effective mitigation measures for flooding due to lack of resources, the bottom line is that the IPCC has found no global climate induced trends in either droughts or flooding. Unfortunately, the AP writer O’Malley completely ignores this in favor of the findings of a single study that contains, at a minimum, three major flaws in the way it gathered, analyzed, and reported its results.

This flawed reporting seems to be a sad trend. Just last year, an AP article linked climate change to severe flooding in South Africa. The widely carried AP story, “Climate change a major factor in fatal South Africa floods,” was typical of the media’s coverage of flawed and unverified research. Just as with the recent PBS story, a modicum of basic research proved the earlier claims false. In, Wrong, CNN, AP, NYT, etc., Climate Change Did Not Cause South Africa’s Tragic Floods, my colleague Sterling Burnett showed there was no evidence linking South African flooding to climate change.

Why do mainstream media outlets promote alarming, novel results from unverified studies, while ignoring contrary existing evidence? It could be simple incompetence, or possibly because disasters and crises sell better than “all is well.” It could also be because they are being directly paid to write articles hawking the narrative that humans are causing a climate crisis. The AP,  received a grant of $8 million over three years, to hire twenty new “climate journalists,” who, like O’Malley, seemingly ignore the truth when telling the truth fails to further their funded mission. Coincidence?

Anthony Watts

Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute. Watts has been in the weather business both in front of, and behind the camera as an on-air television meteorologist since 1978, and currently does daily radio forecasts. He has created weather graphics presentation systems for television, specialized weather instrumentation, as well as co-authored peer-reviewed papers on climate issues. He operates the most viewed website in the world on climate, the award-winning website wattsupwiththat.com.

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March 18, 2023 6:14 pm

Repeating comment made at Climate Realism, stuck awaiting approval:

Anthony, it is worse than you’ve said. It is not only the media, but the Secretary of the Treasury, too.


Yellen will tell a new advisory board of academics, private sector experts and non-profits there has been a five-fold increase in the annual number of billion-dollar disasters over the past five years, compared to the 1980s, even after taking into account inflation.

Reading the complete text of the news release, Yellen and Treasury made similar claims to those you attributed to media. Immediately after the meeting, attention was shfted on to SVB and Signature.

Reply to  dk_
March 18, 2023 6:38 pm

I just watched this about a current event and then this bit at 1:05:05 Jeffery Sachs | Current Climate of Catastrophe – YouTube

John Aqua
March 18, 2023 6:32 pm

EV’s, windmills, solar panels, erroneous causations, suppressing dissenting voices and thoughts, all in the name of a false, non-existent problem. Where will it end?

Reply to  John Aqua
March 18, 2023 6:47 pm

“Winston loved Big Brother.”

Orwell saw no reason for hope.

Reply to  dk_
March 21, 2023 12:08 pm

I hate to break it to you,but 1984 was fiction. It was prescient in many ways, and worth reading- but not as much as his non-fiction, like this:

Every line of serious work that I have written since 193as been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and FOR democratic socialism…

My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my

initial concern is to get a hearing. -Orwell, “Why I Write”

March 18, 2023 7:34 pm

When the general reading public starts to critically assess claims made in the news (or on the internet in general) by actively seeking out source data and alternative information, with the deliberate intention to find how and where the claims could be wrong, this kind of article will no longer be influential. Of course, by that time pigs will be flying routinely.

Reply to  fah
March 19, 2023 2:56 am

….in sustainably fuelled, electrically driven vehicles made of ecologically green rice paper which hopefully will be fully recycled in flight saving the planet in the process – “Soylent Green” in the 21st century.

Reply to  186no
March 19, 2023 4:28 am

No rice paper allowed – methane from the paddy fields

Reply to  fah
March 19, 2023 7:21 pm

“the general reading public starts to critically assess claims….” HaHaHa! Verrry funny! Dream on. We’re talking about the “sheeple” here.

CD in Wisconsin
March 18, 2023 9:26 pm

Honestly, I had no idea that an increase in ice cream sales caused an increase and shark attacks and a decrease in ice cream sales causes a decrease in shark attacks.

I learn something new every day. /sarc

Phillip Bratby
Reply to  CD in Wisconsin
March 19, 2023 12:00 am

Perhaps an increase in shark attacks caused an increase in ice cream sales and a a decrease in shark attacks caused a decrease in ice cream sales. /sarc

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  Phillip Bratby
March 19, 2023 1:08 am

Or, perhaps, we should stop buying ice cream and save the lives of those entering the sea?

Dave Fair
Reply to  Ben Vorlich
March 19, 2023 2:19 pm

That’s the same reasoning used for banning gun sales to law-abiding citizens to stop attacks by gang-bangers, career criminals and the insane.

Reply to  Phillip Bratby
March 19, 2023 4:30 am

Perhaps it’s the sharks who are buying the ice cream

Ban sales of ice cream to sharks!

Reply to  Redge
March 19, 2023 5:11 am

More ice dream is sold when there are sharks near the beach ‘cos people don’t go into the sea in case they get eaten so they buy ice cream instead of going swimming.

Reply to  Oldseadog
March 19, 2023 5:18 am

I blame CO2

March 19, 2023 2:40 am

There’s no proof of anything in this study, they’re just pointing and shouting “look! look! CORRELATION!”

Unfortunately this is the state of peer reviewed “science” these days, as long as it passes the doom and gloom test, scientists know it will be picked up by climate alarmist media like the Guardian or PBS, who never criticise anything like this, and the propaganda has done it’s job.

Shame on you Dr Matthew Rodell.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Alpha
March 19, 2023 2:23 pm

Sadly, essentially all of the media is climate alarmist. As noted, many are being paid to be so and a bunch of them banded together under the auspices of the Columbia School of Journalism to push Leftist propaganda far and wide. I wonder what history will say about this fad in journalism? And it is not limited to climate; all Leftist narratives are being coordinated among government, NGOs and media.

Last edited 5 days ago by Dave Fair
March 19, 2023 5:12 am

As someone said, repeat a lie often enough and people will begin to believe it is true.

John Aqua
Reply to  Oldseadog
March 19, 2023 8:16 pm

I believe that was some German back in the 1940’s.

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