Don't Forget Context in Climate Discussion
Sep 27, 2013
How quickly we forget.
Last year was the hottest year on record in the United States. Yet climate change talk this fall has shifted focus to a potential 15-year "pause" in global warming. The headlines that annoy me the most breathlessly intone things such as "arctic ice up 60%." This statement happens to be true, but it's missing a key element: context.
For starters, that statement is only true because arctic ice rebounded from an all-time recorded low in 2012. But it is also a prime example of a logical fallacy we’re all familiar with – cherry picking. The climate change discussion has been heavily influenced by cherry picking. It snowed a lot this past winter, therefore global warming isn’t real. This summer was cooler than expected, therefore climate change is a myth. In reality, 95% of scientists agree climate change is occurring and is influenced by human activity.
Climate change is tracked over decades or even centuries, not days or seasons. And it is a game of averages, not individual "wins" and "losses." The National Center for Atmospheric Research drew up a nice video to explain the concept here:
As the video explains, you could reasonably expect record highs and record lows to balance out over time, but there are currently three incidences of record highs for each incidence of record lows.
NCAR also notes that "you can't say that a specific event is due to global warming" – a good reminder when we’re throwing another log on the fire this December.