Global Temperature for REALLY STUPID People

I hope that doesn’t include you.

But it does include some people who write opinion pieces in newspapers, and/or their readers who suck it right up. I’m not just talking about “made a mistake” or “that was dumb” or “oops, I had a brain fart,” I’m talking about REALLY STUPID.

How would you present global temperature as “no problem” if you were REALLY STUPID, or if you weren’t but you wanted to sucker the hell out of people who are REALLY STUPID? Let’s start by looking at global temperature data, from the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project:

The thick red line show an estimate of the trend, and it’s the trend that counts. But we can also see lots and lots of fluctuations around the trend. The fluctuations go up and down and down and up but never really get anywhere, but the trend does — it represents genuine climate change, not just weather fluctuations.

The present trend value is 1.2°C (2.15°F) higher than it was in the year 1900. That’s more than half way to the 2°C (3.6°F) limit considered “extremely dangerous,” and most of the way to the 1.5°C (2.7°F) limit considered dangerous. That’s bad news. Very bad.

If we want to make it seem “no problem,” let’s start with the fact that these are temperature anomaly values. Temperature anomaly is the difference between temperature, and what it was (on average) during some reference period, or baseline period. The baseline period for the Berkeley data is from 1951 through 1980, so their temperature anomaly values are the differences between temperature and the 1951-1980 average.

You could use a different baseline, and that would change the numbers but won’t really change the differences between numbers — you can slide a tape rule up or down but it won’t make you any taller or shorter. We might use a baseline of 1980-2010, when it was hotter that the 1951-1980 baseline period, and that would make all the numbers lower. But the difference between 1900 and now — the increase we’ve seen so far — would still be the same. The trend value now is 1.2°C (2.15°F) higher than it was in the year 1900.

But it will lower all the numbers, which will make now seem a lot less scary if you don’t show, or even mention, how “where we are now” compares to “where we used to be.” The present trend value is +0.84°C, which is scary enough, but if you use the 1980-2010 baseline it gets lowered to +0.46°C. That’s less scary! Be sure not to tell people that the baseline tells you nothing about how much the planet has warmed — that might give away the trick.

Still, +0.46°C might be too scary so let’s forget about the trend value. Let’s put those fluctuations to good use! They go up and down and down and up but never really get anywhere, but we can still choose a “down” moment, then talk about that and nothing else.

For instance, the value (using the 1980-2010 baseline) dipped down to +0.31°C very recently, for the July 2018 average. That’s even less scary than +0.46°C.

But wait — there’s more! These data are monthly averages, and they show plenty of fluctuation above and below the trend. But if we use daily data, we find that they fluctuate even more! The trend is the same … the total average global warming since 1900 is the same … the danger is the same. The fluctuations don’t last. But if you pick just the right day, one when the fluctuation dips very low, then talk about just that with no context (don’t dare give context!), no trend (don’t mention that!), no reference to how much hotter even that is than what it used to be, you can make it seem a lot less scary.

We’ve all see that occasional warm winter day when it fluctuated to very high temperature, but we all knew it was a fluctuation that wouldn’t last and you’d have to be REALLY STUPID to believe that meant the end of winter. We’ve lived through enough winters to know that an exceptionally warm day, even a string of warm days, doesn’t mean winter is over or winter will never come again. That would be REALLY STUPID.

But: if we were REALLY STUPID, or if we just wanted to sucker the living daylight out of people who are REALLY STUPID, we can do it with global temperature!

And while you’re at it: don’t tell people what data you’re using. Then they might actually look at it. They might compare modern times to what used to be. They might even (shudder!) estimate the trend.

Let me sum up: use a baseline that makes the numbers lower, ignoring the fact that it has no effect on how much the globe has warmed. Concentrate on the fluctuations so people don’t worry about the trend. Use daily data (rather than monthly or yearly averages) so you can find one with a very low fluctuations. Don’t mention what data you’re using. And above all else: no context, especially the long record of more than a century of global temperature data.

You might be wondering, who would do such a thing?

Here’s my opinion: that’s exactly what was done by Wallace Mayo in a recent opinion piece in the Roanoke Times. Mayo asks “are we on the same planet?” My answer: no we’re not — I’m on the planet called “Earth.”

But hey, that’s just my opinion.

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13 responses to “Global Temperature for REALLY STUPID People

  1. Oh, I feel so stupid! I was sure this article was going to be about Steve Goddard!

  2. Keith McClary

    This cartoon reminded me of your post:

  3. Gotta love the GDPR here in the EU – we can’t read anything from the Roanoke Times here in Europe!

  4. Yes, incredible. I’m sure I’ve seen others like this; comparing a temperature on a particular day (or even a weekly average) with the same day (or week) decades ago, as evidence for low or little warming.

  5. Can I leave this here ? It is by J.R Hennessy and it is good.

    “Who the hell cares what old people think about climate change?
    If you won’t live to see the worst of it, kindly shut up.”

  6. sometimes its simply not worth bothering going into any detail when engaging with deniers and their fellow conspiracy theorists – you need to keep it simple and to the point – so adding energy to the climate system means you get a more energetic climate, because it contains more energy – full stop

    Getting into detailed arguments with idiots about attribution studies etc is a waste of time – in the same way arguing with a 911 twoofer about the chemical composition of “nano thermite” is

    they want to get into the detail, they are happier there

  7. Chris B, do you mean old people like Donald Trump or Rupert Murdoch? Possibly even our host here who given his accumulated knowledge is not I suspect in the first flush of youth?
    Old people have far to much power to ignore, sadly I have the age but not the power. If you can shut DT up using legal methods ‘kindly feel free’.

    I find that I am becoming that old uncle who never stops banging on about climate change, it’s not that my nieces, nephews, grandchildren etc don’t get it but they are too busy making a life to worry about ‘all that stuff’. I and my generation of superannuated old boffers have far more time to bother our political masters than the young. Don’t insult us or write us off.

    • @Paul Good,

      I agree that most people I know who are retired are way more active on social and other issues than younger people are. Indeed, I wonder — and they’ve said they wonder — where they get the time to do all they do.

      On the other hand, there are young people doing a lot. (You can sign up to suppot them here and read what’s involved here.) And those who are too busy with day-to-day minutiae may soon come to regret their disengagement.

      I attended a gubernatorial candidates forum on energy and the environment at the Boston Museum of Science yesterday, sponsored, basically, by a bunch of environmental organizations. Whether it’s incumbent Republican Charlie Baker or challenger Democrat Jay Gonzalez, both were wanting in their ambition to take on the challenges. Baker is engaged, but he has the weariness of appreciating the complexity of the problem. Gonzalez has the right spirit, but his entire plan depends upon raising taxes on wealthy, a good idea, but unlikely to get past the (Democratic) Speaker of the House, Robert DeLeo, who, despite only being elected by a tiny fraction of Massachusetts voters, wields power over everyone. He’s fiercely anti-tax. If Gonzalez doesn’t get the money, all the plans are for nought.

      Something Baker says which is a suggestion of how this is likely to go. Baker created Executive Order 569 on Climate Change. In part, this attempted to create a cloud of Municipal Vulnerability Assessment Plans and follow-up actions throughout the Commonwealth. Initial interest in the project was meager. Baker reported after two recent, fierce, and expensive nor’easters, subscriptions and interest more than doubled. And that’s the pattern.

      I suspect that the people of the United States and the politicians who follow them won’t do anything until sufficient numbers of white people of means are carried off in body bags from climate change impacts. Alas, that’s likely to be pretty late in the process and, if not now, by then, like Exxon and 45‘s administration now, it may be deemed “too expensive to do anything about”. Apparently foresight is not considered part of American living, at least not any longer.

      But I understand you comment about being “… that old uncle who never stops banging on about climate change.” I have been rejected from local town politics for the same kind of reason. It’s not that there aren’t groups about who get it and want to act, it’s that the Town of Westwood, Massachusetts, is doing quite well with the status quo and won’t want to change anything that might cost them additional taxes or introduce other impediments to how they live. Heck, y’can’t even bike or run on side streets safely here because The Mighty Automobile rules all.

      At some point, while there are places for action, self-survival means disengaging and watching the walls crumble as people continue to disbelieve. That’s sad but apparently that’s how these people are.

      I’m increasing turning to more purely scholarly pursuits. I am organizing the rally and Meeting of Witness in Boston for the opening of the Juliana v United States trial on the 29th, and will follow and support that, but afterwards? I’m largely disengaging.

      The My Favorite Theorem podcast is fun.

  8. @Paul Good – Well I didn’t write it as I am not J.R. Hennessy.
    He makes it clear though that he is talking about the ‘older people’ who have continued to stand in the way of making the changes required to mitigate Global warming by every means possible.
    If his writing makes some people’s consciences punish them then that is probably with good reason. Chances are most people who should feel guilty won’t ever read it or see it.
    The people that are doing everything they can know he is not talking to them…..or should at least…..but then baby boomers are notoriously sensitive and insular ;)
    J R and I are both Australian and an example that may make sense to you is the statistic that the average age of Australian farmer is 56, up from 53 a decade ago and at the same time “Australia is in the midst of a full-blown land-clearing crisis. Projections suggest that in the two decades to 2030, 3m hectares of untouched forest will have been bulldozed in eastern Australia.”
    So not only can we not stop the damaging land use practices but we have no input or control over most of the landscape to bring about the land use changes that could contribute to overall emissions mitigation or hope to stem biodiversity loss.
    By and large Australian farmers have refused to accept that climate change is a man made problem and biodiversity is just in the way of their business plans.
    Our local councils are greatly dominated by boomers or party apparatchiks of political parties controlled by boomers.
    Almost all the government programs and policies to aid equality or access to ‘social mobility’ have been destroyed by the voting power of boomers.
    Every younger person who has taken an interest in anthropogenic global warming has been told by a baby boomer that “Well it won’t be happening in my lifetime….”
    Baby boomers need to know that is not something that can just be forgiven. That’s not how climate change works.

  9. Chris B
    I did read the JRH piece you linked to and thought it pretty grubby. I suppose I am a ‘boomer’ , the generation that built barracdes in Paris, cionverged on Grosvenor Square London in their thousands and demonstrated all over America sometimes with fatal consequences. I don’t know what was happening in Oz but this was a generation that cared and still does.

    Now it seems the lucky country is determined to lead us down the black hole, or maybe just follow DT. It must be very frustrating to know your country has the resources to lead the way forward and can only see the next quarters balance sheet. Perhaps more direct action is needed.

    I find it revealing that in 2016 in the US 46% of 18-29 year olds voted, 70% of over 65s voted.
    UK 2017 58% 18-24 voted 84% 70+ voted
    Even in Australia with a different system the lowest turnout rate is by those in their 20s, all from gov sources.

    Don’t make this an age issue, take any support going and push anyone you know who isn’t engaging.