Global Warming and How Trends Work

Global WarmingNot that facts matters, but The New York Times reported, 2015 Was Hottest Year in Historical Record, Scientists Say. Of course, as any actual scientist will tell you — even a lowly one like me who scrapes out a living filling the internet with crap — one year don’t mean a thing. Of course, in context, it’s in “Oh my God, we’re all going to die!” territory.

It reminds me back to last year, Seth Meyers Fails on Global Warming. You may remember that Ted Cruz was on Late Night With Seth Meyers. He claimed that there had been no global warming for the last 17 years. It’s a little strange, right? I mean, 17 years? Not 15 years or 20 years or even a dozen years. It’s too precise. And all it meant was that 17 years ago, we had a really hot year. Here’s the graph:

Yearly Average Surface Temperatures

Of course, this is not how trends are calculated for temperatures or anything else. You don’t look at the first year and then the last year and then divide them by the numbers in between. That gives the first and last years all the weighting and absolutely nothing for all the years in between. It’s not valid scientifically. And Ted Cruz and everyone else who uses this trick knows it isn’t true. Look at the graph: is there any question but that there is an increasing trend?

What’s more, look at 1973. It was a hot year for that time. Let’s compare it to 1985 — the middle of three very cool years. Oh my God! Global cooling! Of course during that period there really wasn’t a trend either way. Let’s look out to 1992 — it’s basically the same temperature as 1973. No global warming! But you can see very clearly that there was a 0.5°F increase in global temperatures over that two decade period. And what about going from 1970 to 2015 — a 45 year period. Clearly, there is an enormous increase in temperature.

Scientists could use this kind of nonsense too. They could say that temperatures were increasing much faster from 1992 to 1998 by starting with a very cold year and ending with a very hot year. Of course, they don’t. This is because scientists aren’t in the business of deceiving people. They aren’t in the business of coming up with any old theory that will justify the Saudi royal family continuing to cling onto power and that the Koch brothers continuing to give political donations.

But now we have the hottest year on record. I can assure you that there will be years a decade or two out that will be colder than last year. And Ted Cruz and George Will and Charles Krauthammer (or their replacements) will make the same argument. “There has been no global warming since 2015 because last year was an unusually cold year.” This really annoys me because it means that there is literally no data that will change their minds. Now they will say that just one hot year doesn’t mean a thing. And they’ll be right! But then they’ll wait for one cold year and suddenly one year will be all that it will take to prove that global warming is a hoax.

Afterword: Global Warming Ignorance

My father is almost fanatical about global warming. But many years ago, after my mother had died, he was involved with this woman who was a Fox News addict and something of a conspiracy theorist. And I was having dinner with them and global warming came up. And they said, “You don’t believe in that, do you?!” And then something was said about Al Gore and I did not push the point. I’m not one to think much of my (or anyone else’s) PhD. But I was shocked that I could spend a decade of my life doing nothing but studying this stuff, and these two old farts thought they knew more than I did because someone on television told them it was so. Here’s a rule of thumb: a bunch of smart people can be totally wrong about something. But it’s a good idea to know why they think something and not just assume they are as ignorant as you are.

4 thoughts on “Global Warming and How Trends Work

  1. There’s as usual a lot of class and race involved. Poorer people have all the increasing hardships you’re well aware of. And so it’s easy for the right (which caused these hardships) to say, “yer good jobs have all gone to blacks/immigrants/foreign aid!” In the case of global warming, it’s “you have to pay ten times more for solar power and never drive a car again so environmentalists can save Arctic snow egrets who probably aren’t endangered anyway!”

    That’s why it’s so important how James Hansen and many others are working to make the scientific community more politically vocal. I understand the reticence. If you believe in trying to understand things, you should also believe in not tying your search process (which is the real quest in itself) to an agenda. You have a theory, and you want your research to support that theory . . . but when what you find unbalances your theory, that’s exciting too.

    However Hansen and McKibben and others asking scientists to be more politically vocal aren’t calling for anybody to distort their findings. Only to be loud and proud about the overall trend those findings prove!

    As a closet Machiavellian, I’m impressed by how the energy companies are handling this. They hire a handful of dirtbag scientists to publish papers that get headlines (and it takes real scientists a while to unpack their claims, which are just close enough to real research so as not to seem completely dishonest.) They pay off politicians to scream “jobs are more important than snowy egrets!” And they run ads about how oil companies are spending every waking moment using Science (footage of people in labs, looking at computer screens) to make Energy good and true and pure. I couldn’t suggest a better approach. It’s quite effective.

    • Did you see the Trump commercial where he talks about how we have no country because we don’t have a border? There is less illegal immigration than there has been in my lifetime, but he has millions prepared to vote for him over a nonexistent problem. That’s perhaps the one good thing about Trump getting the nomination: the press probably will be willing to stand up and say: “No! That’s not true!” And I suspect this is why the Republican elites hate him. They know that even a man as vile as Ted Cruz will cause the press to do their usual, “Some say Ted Cruz is just making this up; but certainly we would never have an opinion!”

  2. I probably would have said “I don’t believe in it because it is like believing that this table exists-it just is.” Sadly though this is proof I steal from Barney Frank.

    Anyway, the right wing takes anything they can take to make it seem like things are not what they seem. So when they talk about how Reagan was like the most awesome president evah on the budget, they often will include years that don’t belong to him. Or when they talk about global warming or any number of things. It is part of their crafting their own reality.

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