AG Jeff Landry says the seas aren’t rising, but scientist says otherwise

Posted at 3:12 PM, Feb 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-14 16:12:29-05

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry maintains that the overwhelming scientific consensus on humanity’s contribution to climate change is “a hoax," and he contends the sea hasn’t risen at all — positions scientists say ignore well-established observations and data and rely on theories that have long been debunked.

Landry last week announced a lawsuit against the federal government over Corps of Engineers maintenance of the Intracoastal Waterway. He claims the Corps has violated its servitude agreement along the waterway, which has worsened Louisiana’s problem with coastal erosion.

During Landry’s press conference on the suit, KATC reporter Josh Meny asked Landry whether he felt sea-level rise also has something to do with the state’s coastal concerns. Landry said "absolutely not," called global warming and climate change “a hoax” and urged all to investigate the science.

“The acceleration of sea-level rise along the U.S. Gulf Coast in the past century, compared to the pre-industrial era, is very well documented (the rate has been about 4-5 times higher)," said Torbjörn E. Törnqvist, Ph.D., a Tulane University geology professor who studies sea level and climate. "This reflects what is seen worldwide and is the consensus finding of at least 97 percent of the climate science community."

The science

“The relationship between sea level and temperature on our planet is one of the simplest out there," said Jim White, Ph.D., interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. "Its physical cause is that warm air and warm ocean water melt land-based ice (think Greenland and Antarctica). Not at all complicated to anyone who’s ever had a drink with ice in it or watched ice melt on a hot day. What is perhaps surprising is the scale of the changes."

White, a geological sciences professor whose research focuses on the global climate cycle, said that on average, 1 degree Celsius of warming accompanies about 20 meters of sea-level rise.

"This is based on very good observations of sea level and temperature in the past," White said. "The relationship is not strictly linear (not much in nature is) but it’s important to recognize that small temperature changes lead to large changes in sea level. And keep in mind that our leaders are arguing over whether holding warming to 2 degrees C is possible."

"The only good news I can offer is it takes decades to centuries to melt lots of land ice," White added. "Put simply, you have time, but not much hope, particularly if your leaders think that denying simple physics is good public policy.”

Törnqvist, the Tulane professor, co-authored a 2017 study that found that sea-level rise over the last 6-10 years averages about half-an-inch per year along Louisiana’s coast. Based on those findings, he and fellow researchers concluded that 60 percent of sites in western coastal Louisiana are on track to drown without a major effort to rebuild the wetlands.

But Landry claims the sea has not risen at all and that humans have not made any contribution to global warming. He reiterated these claims through a pair of back-to-back tweets directed at KATC.

In the first, Landry cites a graph showing Antarctic ice core temperature measurements compared to carbon measurements over time. Landry relies on the graph for his argument against human-caused carbon pollution and its related temperature increases.

“The CO2-temperature record from Antarctica shows precisely why climate change is such a threat,” said Törnqvist, the Tulane professor. “Yes – climate has shown large natural variations, everyone in the climate science field knows that and we also know very well why (this has to do mostly with gradual changes in the Earth’s orbit that play out over timescales of tens of thousands of years)."

But Earth’s carbon levels over the last century show a spike that’s far surpassed all historical measurements, Törnqvist said.

"The rate at which CO2 is currently increasing is unprecedented and is currently at a level that we haven’t seen in the past 3 million years,” he said, adding that those measured levels predict "a rapid increase in temperature, which is precisely what is happening.

“You may have heard that the global temperature has been broken three times in a row (2014 to 2016), which is unprecedented,” he said.

White, of UC Boulder, said the graph showing historical Antarctic carbon levels and temperature changes further strengthens scientific claims that humanity is making an impact on the world’s temperatures.

“The observation that CO2 and methane correlate with temperature is quite consistent with the simple physics that says that the more greenhouse gas there are in the atmosphere, the warmer the planet will be. That’s both an observation and a physical reality. Just because changes in the past were natural, does not mean that gases that we humans produce won’t have exactly the same impact,” White said.

According to Landry, the graph illustrates that carbon and temperature "were correlated long before Global Warming." But White points out that modern carbon levels are at 400 ppm, “well beyond the scale of that Vostok graph.

“We have significantly altered greenhouse gases, that is very clear,” White said.

Landry followed up with a tweet citing Nils-Axel Mörner, a climate scientist who denies humanity’s contribution to climate change, and a 2009 British column that reiterates those ideas.

When KATC followed up with Landry about his positions, he accused "the media" of distracting from the Corps lawsuit and said that his main argument is skepticism that humanity has contributed to modern climate change.

"The question is not whether there is climate change, of course the climate changes," Landry said in a statement. "The question is whether or not man’s actions are causing the change. Considering the dramatic changes that are obviously cyclical over the last 400,000 years, the activities of mankind are not the driving force. And, considering all the fraudulent data and manipulation that has occurred in the scientific pursuits of Anthropomorphic Global Warming/Climate Change, a heavy dose of skepticism is warranted."

Törnqvist said Mörner’s views, which Landry espouses, "have been debunked in an overwhelming fashion.

“To put it a little more bluntly: he is not taken seriously by the scientific community because his claims are entirely inconsistent with the facts,” Törnqvist said.

NASA released a study this week that found global sea-level rise has accelerated in recent decades, an observation they say is driven by melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

Almost 200 science organizations worldwide agree that today’s climate change is human-caused, and the U.S. military is considering climate change in its strategies. Louisiana’s Legislature has codified a coastal plan that addresses climate change and the globe’s swelling waters

Energy companies are also accused of knowing for decades about human-caused climate impacts but working to suppress that evidence, a matter now subject to litigation.