It’s hot, and getting hotter.

I’ve never taken a locked-in-concrete stance on the issue of climate change because, simply, I don’t understand all the variables. That said, my gut tells me that the amounts of greenhouse gases we have produced since the beginning of the industrial revolution have got to be taking a toll on our global ecology.

Then along comes an article in The Register, claiming that based on a recent study, temperatures are going down rather than up. So I put the question out into the ether, where I happen to have friends and associates who are far wiser about such matters than I, including career professionals in the field. The responses I got back were enlightening, and I summarize them here.

The chart below comes from the Register’s article.

  1.  The first thing to notice is that the cooling trend line in the above chart is deceptive, and that statistics can be made to say anything you want them to. If you were to begin it at the “Little Ice Age,” it would be trending decidedly upward, with a sharp spike noticeable around the beginning of the 20th century.
  2. The data recorded in Esper’s study (again, see the article linked to above) are of interest, and will doubtless be put through the scientific wringer to see how they add to our overall knowledge of the climate and its behavior. Using a single data set, to draw definitive conclusions about long-term trends is not sound science, however, and Esper’s team does not do so. In this case, either the author of this article misunderstood the paper, or – given the Register’s reputation as a bully pulpit for climate-change skeptics – used the data to support its own pre-conceived conclusions.
  3. Esper’s data focuses exclusively on northern Scandinavia, rather than multiple lines of numbers taken globally. An accurate picture of what is happening planetwide would have to be extrapolated from sources such as ice cores, sediments, tree rings and other empirical data gathered at different time points in varying locations throughout both hemispheres. One such chart attempts to pull together a number of different analyses into a single graphic:

Source and key here.

4.   Well-understood orbital mechanics have satisfactorily explained previous warming periods throughout history.
5.   The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, which took place about 55 million years ago, saw the temperature of the world rise 6 °C over a period of 20,000 years, resulting in numerous extinctions but also the rise of other modern mammalian orders. While the cause is not yet clear, it appears that a massive outgassing of carbon from the oceans followed by uncontrolled warming created a planet-wide hothouse that took 150,000 years to cool off. Compare this with the Medieval Warm period, a blip on the grid by comparison, which affected only Europe and the North Atlantic; during the same time other parts of the globe were suffering wet spells or severe drought.

My own experience is that it’s hot, and getting hotter. The past six months have broken numerous local, nationwide and historical heat records since recordkeeping began. If the current trend continues, my grandchildren may experience a world that could be 4.3 °F to 11.5 °F hotter than it is today, and such a heat differential will lead to an increase of the kinds of drought and severe storms we have been seeing in the past year. I have lived in the same area in the west for over 40 years. Over time, our temperatures have risen and our precipitation, particularly in the winter, has decreased. This does not bode well for the future, where our desert state depends on scarce water resources for survival; it’s not the kind of world I want to bequeath to my posterity.

The Battle over Climate Change

A recent article in PopSci lays the battle lines out fairly clearly, and it’s not pretty. When solving a crime, detectives still look at the old standbys of motive, method and opportunity. In the battle over climate change, it helps to ask the single question “Who benefits?” In other words, follow the money. While one could make a case for scientists stirring up public outrage with an eye toward prestige and grant money, or politicians using global warming as a vote-getting strategy, it seems far less an incentive than the prospect of billions in profit lost by industries and corporations which will be impacted by increased restrictions on the amount of carbon they are allowed to pump into our atmosphere.

There are places in the world where people are killed for the price of a meal; small wonder that the amounts of money and power that are at stake result in a firestorm of scientific legerdemain, character assassination and even intimidation and death threats directed at honest scientists who are pursuing nothing but scientific conclusions based on empirical data.

When I distil the admixture of data down to its undiluted essence, I can’t escape the conclusion that we are fouling our nest with exponentially-increasing speed, and those who say it ain’t so have a vested interest in keeping climate change off the table. The good news is that despite adversity (eppure si muove!) scientists have a tendency to keep doing science, and the more time goes on, the clearer the picture will become. In the end (if the science is sound) the only skeptics will be meeting in the room across the hall from the flat earth society.

The Old Wolf has Spoken.

3 responses to “It’s hot, and getting hotter.

  1. The population of people and animals to feed those people has risen drastically over those many years. All of us creatures are carbon and methane emitters plus, much green substances have been cleared for our food, and infrastructure, which includes our housing, shopping and work places. Will there be a lottery to decide which 3 billion people will be pogrommed to lighten the load on this poor old mudball ?
    Signed, Gweedo Murray (Gordon H.)

    • If you’re an Asimov fan, I recommend his short story “The Winnowing” which addresses your last question in the typically wonderful Asimovian fashion. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Global warming leads to more snow. Was looking for but so far failed to find a clever comic strip explaining this in quite understandable detail, nicely illustrated over what would be about half a printed page. Anyway, it has to do with more water vapour steaming off of the oceans due to higher temperature, getting transported on the winds to cooler areas and falling as snow, creating he illusion of colder winters. Last panel voiced the question “Why doesn’t anybody exlain it like that in the media?”

    And the answer was “Because it takes more than 140 characters.”

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