Friends, over the past few months Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, multiple newspapers in the UK and Australia and of course Fox News have all been talking about how global warming has ‘slowed’, or ‘stopped’.
Some of the most stupid (or brazen) of these outlets’ sock puppets have even started claiming that the Earth is cooling.
The fact that this is bullshit, and people take it seriously, is annoying.
The fact that this particular bullshit is being hurled at us simultaneously in multiple forms is infuriating.
And this is especially true when one realises that it’s part of a pattern of obfuscation that the right wing has been using for decades.
But first to the science.
Sea ice is a tricky thing huh?
I mean, just ask the Titanic!
But has the amount of sea ice been increasing, thus suggesting that global warming isn’t happening?
Well, yes and no.
Well actually it’s more like “kinda” and “no”.
You see friends the sea ice in the Antarctic (that’s the South Pole) has indeed increased slightly over the past 30ish years.
But over that same period the sea ice in the Arctic has decreased dramatically. It’s decreased so much in fact that the losses there in the north completely outweigh the modest gains in the South.
“But Teddy” I hear you cry. “I just read a report that said that globally ice is doing way better than last year!”
Yes Timmy, yes you did read that.
And what’s more it’s absolutely true.
But it is also total bullshit.
This is because 2012 was a pretty rough year. In fact by some measures it was among the hottest years in human history (but more on that later).
These extremely high temperatures meant that it was also a bad year for ice. So the fact that ice is doing better this year is neither unexpected, nor meaningful.
2012 was one of the worst years ever. The fact that 2013 is less shit doesn’t mean that everything is coming up roses.
This is called “regression to the mean“, which basically means that if something unusually good or unusually bad happens you can be pretty sure that the next thing that happens will be far closer to what usually happens.
If you shoot a ‘hole in one’ you can be pretty sure your next hole will be less good.
But if you look at all the data together the trend (we are losing ice, fast) is pretty darn obvious.
The same holds for the idiots (I’m looking at you, ‘Forbes‘!) who say that because this year looks like it might be slightly less hot than last year (which was, I repeat, probably one of the hottest years in humanity’s history) that means that global warming has “slowed”.
Some of these idiots are so scientifically illiterate, or have their heads so far up their ideological bungholes, that they actually argue that the Earth is cooling.
Ok, look, it’s like this.
Let’s say you are in a car that is headed towards a cliff.
In the first 10 seconds your speed goes from 0 to 100 miles per hour (an increase of a thousand billion percent).
In the next 10 seconds your speed increases by another 50 miles per hour (this is only an increase of a measly 50 percent).
An intelligent person will say:
“Holy shit! I’m flying towards a cliff at 150 miles per hour!”
A corporate shill, a Fox News presenter, or someone who can’t even maths will say:
“Our rate of acceleration has decreased! Everything is fine!!!”
And I’m not even joking.
These empty mouthpieces are arguing that because the rate at which we are getting hotter has slowed for a few years this means that things are actually “cooler”.
It’s exactly the same as the person in the cliff-car arguing that when we went from 100mph to 150mph that we were actually “slowing down”.
Look, the climate doesn’t change in a stable way. Some years are warmer or colder than others. What is important is whether the overall trend is up or down.
If you look at the years since 1998, and tweak the numbers a bit, you can argue that not much warming has happened and that the warming that did happen wasn’t statistically significant.
But that only works if you look at the years from 1998, because (like 2012) ’98 was an unusually hot year, so the years after it seem less hot. If you take any other time scale the trend reverts to being pretty fucking obvious.
But tell you what, let’s check.
Here’s a graph that shows how much temperatures were either above or below the average for the years 1998 to 2013.
Not much going on at all.
But on the other hand if you throw your net a little wider and take data from say 1970 , it looks like this:
But perhaps I’m just picking the data that suits me, right?
So let’s look at all the data together:
Any sane person who looks at this will see a pretty obvious upwards trend.
A denialist will, somehow, see a decrease in temperature.
Now an observant person, who doesn’t think things through, might look at that graph and point out that it isn’t a graph of temperature, it’s a graph of temperature variation.
This is true.
But I would have to ask them that, given that the graph accurately displays how the temperature has been changing, how exactly a graph of the temperatures themselves would be any different?
At which point I would expect them to slink away while I carry on with my business.
Sadly fighting this nonsense is harder than you might think, because there is a new group of denialists (which some are calling ‘warmists’) who say:
“We believe in global warming but…”
For example they might say “Of course the Earth is warming, and CO2 is the main factor and human activity is the most important cause. Of course we know that.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a problem, and it doesn’t mean we need to do anything about it.”
Now, this might seem like a fair stance to take, until one notices that this stance forms part of a pattern that pro-business groups have been using since the 70s.
The process is always roughly the same:
Step 1: “It’s not real!”
Step 2: “Ok it’s real but it’s not our fault!”
Step 3: “Ok it’s our fault, but that doesn’t mean it’s a problem!”
Step 4: “Ok! It is a problem! But fixing it will just be too damn expensive!”
Step 5: (After public outcry and government pressure has forced them to fix the mess they made) “See? We fixed it! I told you there was nothing to worry about!”
This precise approach has been used to defend leaded petrol, to claim that CFCs should not be banned, to state that DDT is completely safe and has no adverse side effects, and to argue that there is no need to protect endangered species. It was even used, for decades, to first throw doubt on the link between smoking and cancer and then to argue that secondhand smoke doesn’t cause cancer.
And since as far back as the 1980s it has been used to obstruct action on global warming.
The good news is that the noose of actual science is steadily closing around this bullshit.
We will see action on global warming within a few years.
Because believe you me: we’ll fucking need to.
[Standard Disclaimer: this post was entirely my own opinion and was not paid for in any way, directly or otherwise, by anyone or anything that stands to gain in any way from the ideas expressed herein.]