Monthly Archives: July 2014

Is It Getting Warmer, Or Is It Just You?

Summer has, thus far, been everything I hoped it would be. I have watched copious amounts of Netflix, played with my dog, caught up on jobs around the house, and I only study very infrequently when I am feeling especially lazy. In addition, an imminent job opportunity looks to provide additional income (lunch money) and a chance to review some basic topics in disciplines in which I should be familiar. Another hobby of mine, when I have the time, is reading. I have read several excellent books so far, with a few more still to go, and I also try to read up on current events. Because I am a dork, I often end up reading recently published scientific articles, as opposed to entertainment or political news. This week I ran across an article that affirms a point I have often had to make to classmates/people who email me to tell me how wrong I am about something. So today the topic is Climate Change.

To start, we have to go way back. I was a sophomore in college, and my political science professor offered extra credit to any students who would attend an evening presentation on climate change. It ended up being not very informative, since it was given by an organization pushing the “Cap and Trade” legislation that floated around during the early years of the Obama administration. They bombarded us with scientific evidence, convincing us that not only was the Earth heating up like a large terrestrial oven, but we were the tasty human pizza rolls about to get toasted unless we did something very very quickly.

As I sat in this room with hundreds of other college students, I realized what a sham this was. Their evidence was thin and poorly presented. Graphs were engineered to make minute differences look enormous. Statistics that were right on the edge of significance were presented as gospel. Everyone soaked it up. When they asked for questions, I hoped to hear some good ones, but instead they fielded questions like “Whose fault is it that this happened, George Bush or the pharmaceutical industry?” (Okay just kidding, but you get the idea). I had sat through the same lecture, I even took notes, and no one was asking the questions I wanted to ask. 

Background: I NEVER ask questions in class. I prefer to sit in my seat, learn what I need to learn, and maybe play Flight Control on my iPhone if things get boring. I don’t like drawing attention to myself, and I don’t usually need to ask any clarifying questions. On this night, however, I came out of my shell. One of their findings they kept referencing was this chart that showed global increase in temperature over the span of years. I did some quick math on my paper and jotted some notes, then raised my hand and waited to answer my question. When they called on me, I stood up in front of several hundred people and said:

“In your previous statements, you referenced the Earth being at least 6 billion years old. Seeing that the oldest temperature recordings you have in your presentation come from 1892, how can you be sure that your sample size accurately reflects the actual trends in climate change?” 

See, from 1892-2014 (I am being generous and giving them 4 extra years) is 122 years. 122 / 6,000,000,000 is .000002%. In English, that’s a completely meaningless amount, similar to trying to draw conclusions about the current population of the Earth by sampling about 150 people. The Earth might be warming up, but does it matter? Maybe it was cooler, so this warming trend is getting us closer to normal. We have no way of knowing. There were several other good questions I could have asked, but I went with this one because it was quick and easy.

So you know the response I got from this lady? She laughed it off. She said that it was a “silly question” that “didn’t address real science”. We hadn’t even gotten into the science of climate change, I just asked about some simple math from her own results. It’s this mockery of skeptics that drives me mad, and it happens all the time. If you have questions about climate change, you must be an idiot. Just look around man, it’s like crazy hot, so duh, climate change. 

Well when I call shenanigans and say that we don’t really know what’s happening with the climate, I am totally right. Here is an interesting magazine cover.

This is from the 1970’s, when concern over global cooling was a huge problem. Then we started worrying about global warming, and now we are just worried about climate change in general, because we weren’t even sure about the warmer or colder part.

The best paper I wrote in my “Composition” classes in college (I use that term loosely because the teacher was terrible and I learned nothing about composition) was a short paper on a “controversial current event”. I picked the climate change/cap and trade issue because that presentation had happened not long ago and I wanted to dive in a little deeper. I put together a fairly cohesive argument, and all I said were a few key points. First, there is a good reason to doubt the human impact on climate change. Second, even if human activity were, at present, causing this climate change, it would require drastic interventions to have any impact. Third, there is not an effective way to plan and implement these interventions, or to address their (probably severe) consequences. I had several pages of bibliography, and I knew I had written a good paper. The professor just wrote “C-” on top of the page without reading any of it. 

One of my pet peeves is word usage. Words mean things, and using them incorrectly really messes things up. So even this idea of climate change is silly to me. Climate change could include changes in everything from sunshine, rainfall, or wind. Is the climate changing? Undoubtedly. Does that mean that man-made carbon emissions are creating a greenhouse effect and warming the Earth? Whoah. Calm down. Our understanding of weather is primitive enough that local meteorologists are still uncertain whether or not it will rain on a given day (I live in the Midwest, where the weather is made up and the forecasts don’t matter).

So here is a recent news story covering this phenomenon. Here’s the President of the United States openly mocking skeptics. I’m all for good humored joking, but this is a prevalent strategy to prevent actual discussion on the topic. Discussions we really should be having.

Speaking of discussions, I love it when I get emails from my readers, especially readers who disagree with me. Please don’t be vulgar or nasty, and please don’t say:

Well you just don’t really know any science, obviously. All research points to climate change, you just want to ignore it. 

While I am sure you will find scientists who will support your claims, that doesn’t mean asking questions is unscientific. Especially if you plan on sending me links from I mean, here is a recent article published in the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (a group that dabbles in science, by the way). Researchers from Texas did some measurements in Antartica and realized that there was a strong correlation between ice sheet melting and subterranean magma. I know it’s crazy, but it’s possible that volcanoes could cause increased rates of ice melting. 

I need to be done for now. Thanks for reading.