Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hot Enough Out There For Ya?

From a few short months ago ...
( – The family of Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) had some fun at former Vice President and global warming spokesman Al Gore’s expense over the weekend after record snowfall blanketed the nation’s capital.

The family spent Saturday and Sunday building an igloo near the U.S. Capitol building, and the Oklahoma senator posted photos of their handiwork on his Facebook page. They added signs to the snow dwelling that read, “AL GORE’S NEW HOME!” and “HONK IF YOU (LOVE) GLOBAL WARMING.”

Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is one of the foremost skeptics of anthropomorphic or man-caused global warming (AGW). Gore, on the other hand, produced the film “An Inconvenient Truth,” which helped to mainstream the issue of global climate change, and is a prominent proponent of curbing carbon emissions to try to halt it.

The Inhofe family, including the senator’s daughter and grandchildren, built the igloo after a large storm system dumped more than two feet of snow on the Washington, D.C. metro area on Friday and Saturday. The National Weather Service measured a record 32.4 inches at Dulles International Airport. Another 6 to 16 inches are predicted to fall on the capital on Tuesday and Wednesday. Sen. Inhofe’s Family Builds Igloo for Global Warming Spokesman Al Gore in Snow-laden D.C.

Ha ha, those crazy Inhofes. They were always so funny, what a bunch of cards.

Yesterday I was thinking that it would be funny to revisit this story on the blog. Like, here's The Post web site this morning:
More than two thirds of the way through July, the year 2010 is warmer than any prior year this deep into the summer (defining it as June-July-August) on record. And today could be the hottest day. It may not be the hottest in an absolute sense - as July 6 and 7 hit 102. But when you factor in the humidity -- which will be much higher than those scorching days earlier in the month -- it will feel like a stifling 105-110 degrees. No other day has been that oppressively hot. Sunday, regrettably, remains steamy but some modest relief arrives for early next week.

Today (Saturday): I was once told by a forecasting professor, "If you're going to predict a record, you better be damn sure it's going to happen." Suffice to say, I'm damn sure we're going to sail past today's surprisingly low record high of 96. In fact, we'll probably be at or above 96 from before noon to past 7 p.m. Under mostly sunny but hazy skies, highs should top out in the low 100s but the heat index may reach 108 or 109 in the mid-to-late afternoon hours. That's dangerous heat and strenuous activities should be avoided under those conditions. A light wind from the west at 6-10 mph won't provide much relief. Confidence: Medium-High. Forecast: Hottest day in hottest summer

Yesterday was the fortieth day this summer that DC temperatures have passed ninety degrees.

Last winter we had a lot of snow. It didn't get very cold here, just a lot of snow.

I thought it would be funny to go back to that Inhofe story, but he beat me to it. From yesterday's Huffington Post:
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) reiterated his skepticism of climate change science during an outdoor interview at the Capitol this week, in the midst of the Washington heat wave.

"I say the same thing that I said back in January and February when we had the coldest winter that we've had in a long time," said Inhofe.

"But back then you said that we are in a cold spell, that we're nine years into it," the reporter interjected.

"Actually we are," said Inhofe. "I don't think that anyone disagrees with the fact that we actually are in the middle of a cold period that started about nine years ago."

During the record-breaking snowfall in Washington this February, Inhofe drew headlines for building an igloo outside the Capitol with his kids. The sign on it read: "Al Gore's Home. Honk If You Like Global Warming."

For years now, Inhofe has repeated the charge that global warming doesn't exist, calling it "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," and pointing to Washington's "Snowpocalypse" as evidence for the charade. Inhofe Still Insists 'We're In A Cold Spell': Is The Heat Getting To The Senator?

This is all silliness, of course. Inhofe supports big business, and it would be expensive for gigantic corporations to cut back on carbon emissions, so it is in their interest to convince the public that the climate is stable or cooling and no government regulation is needed. And that would be reasonable or at least defensible, if the earth's climate is cooling then factories can crank out the smog, cars can barf clouds of dark poison, we'll be all right in the long run. If there is no global crisis then there is no special need for anyone to change their behavior. Well, unless you are one of those weird people who enjoy breathing clean air and drinking water that is not loaded with chemicals.

The press calls your attention to events like igloos at the Capitol, but says nothing when it is too hot out there for anybody to do anything. And human attention being what it is, we gather the salient information and remain ignorant about what is not made vivid. This kind of system works for someone like Inhofe, it is sufficient for a population that views reality through a television screen. It is not a process that produces accurate objective knowledge.

You can't see the climate. Every point on the earth has a unique history of temperature, humidity, precipitation, and most of those histories have never been measured. In order to determine if human culture has affected the climate it is necessary to map trends in climatic variables over thousands of years, in thousands of places, and look to see if there is something unique about, say, the last two hundred years since the Industrial Revolution.

You and I can't look out the window one day and say, wow, it's hot, the earth is warming up. The fact is, human beings see the world from a point-perspective, we walk around and gather information about the world from our own point of view, where the granularity of our information drops off by approximately the inverse square of distance in space and time. We know the things near us very well, distant things not so much, recent things well, ancient things not so well.

I have written a couple of posts here over the years with the theme "your world is not the world." On this blog we often find an ideological division between conservatives and liberals, but the one that really concerns me is the division between people who believe their world is the world, and those who believe that the objective world transcends a single point of view.

When it comes to understanding the climate, scientists do not look out their windows wherever they happen to live and then argue among themselves about whether it is warmer or cooler than it used to be. I can't think of a better word, it is simply stupid to say that a snowy winter in Washington DC proves that the climate is growing cooler. With his igloos, Inhofe was doing more than making a statement about the climate. He was also demonstrating the principle that his world is the world, that the state of his immediate area is what matters, snow in DC proves that the entire world is getting cold.

In the same way, you can't look out the window today and say that this week's record-setting hot spell proves that the earth is getting warmer. It is relevant that the last decade was the hottest decade on record, but even that could be a decade-long anomaly. The decade 2000-2009 was warmer than 1990-1999, which was warmer than 1980-1989. And there you have a trend.


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