Year 4, Month 3, Day 21: Sigh…

Another day, another dullard. Meet Pennsylvania meteorologist Tom Russell:

Let’s say you’re an alien and your spaceship landed here on Earth in the 1500’s. Then you landed here again in 2013. Now think globally.

Would you say the climate on Planet Earth is generally the same? Same Oceans? Same land masses? You’d probably say it’s the same climate too, right?

Or maybe you’d look more closely and say the climate has changed. What? Climate change?

The point is, perspective matters.

Ken Caldeira of Stanford University says, “Climate is the statistics of weather over the long term.” Turns out the climate is always changing, no matter the time scale, hourly, monthly, yearly, per decade, etc. Even your every 500 year alien visit.

A recent Midwest snow storm was described in the media as “crippling.” Really? An 8-inch snowfall in the Midwest in February is so unusual it’s crippling? Makes you wonder if the weather really is worse than ever or just our reaction to it. Maybe we should dial it back a bit.

And our recent non-snowstorm should be a reminder of our forecast modeling limitations. Imagine carrying out that margin of error over 50 or 100 years.

His mother was a hamster and his father smelled of elderberries. March 10:

Tom Russell falls into an ancient logical fallacy: the argument from personal incredulity. But an inability to understand climate change is not a valid argument against its existence. He’s certainly correct that the extreme weather Americans are now experiencing is not unprecedented, and that the climate has always been changing. But his argument nevertheless fails.

First, no climatologist has ever said that our current weather is entirely new. Rather, they tell us that the frequency, intensity, and unpredictability of extreme weather is increasing — and that this increase is directly correlated with rising atmospheric temperatures. Second, no scientist has ever said our climate has always remained the same. Rather, they tell us that the past eleven millennia have a climate stable enough for agriculture to develop, and in its wake, a complex civilization — and that these “stable enough” conditions are currently ending.

The thing is, human intuition is poorly equipped to make sense of planet-wide data and geological timescales; Mr. Russell and his colleagues in the world of meteorology work exclusively with local and regional data on timescales a fortnight or less. Humans’ intuitions do poorly on larger scales of time and space, which is why science is important. Climatologists work with statistical analysis, historical data, and a continually improving model of the Earth’s climate — and they’ve have been making steadily more accurate predictions for decades.

Mr. Russell may not like the facts of climate change, but he’s going to have to live with them.

Warren Senders


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