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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