I’m really looking forward to summer, and not just because I’m the warm-weather type. This past winter’s snow and cold — and yes, we’ve had some unseasonably cool weather even in Florida, where I live — has filled the global warming deniers with more hot air than you’ll find in Bill O’Reilly’s sauna, and it’s time for the silliness to end.
There’s so much glee and gloating in the deniers’ headlines: “Central Plank of Global Warming Alarmism Discredited” (referring to MIT researcher Kerry Emanuel’s recent finding that climate change might not result in more and stronger hurricanes), “Uncommon Cold is an Antidote to Warming Fears” (it’s been cold this winter, hasn’t it?), “Global Warming Gets the Cold Freeze” (ditto). Yup, a budget crunch for snow-removal in Chicago and cold iguanas falling from trees in Florida sure proves all those hundreds of silly IPCC scientists wrong.
Except they don’t. One season does not a climate trend disprove. As Grist’s excellent guide on “How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic” points out, just because “It’s cold today in Wagga Wagga” doesn’t mean a thing. Cold today (or this week) is just weather. Climate is a different thing entirely.
Or, look at it this way: the long-term odds of tossing heads or tails on a penny always trend toward 50-50. The more times you toss, the closer to a 50-50 spread you’ll get. But toss a penny just 10 times, it can happen occasionally that you’ll get heads every time. That doesn’t mean the tails side of the coin has disappeared.
Two researchers from Tufts University made a similar analogy in a study last year on “Florida and Climate Change: The Costs of Inaction.” They put it like this: in a standard 52-card deck, the average number you’ll draw over time will approach seven. Add some extra high-score cards to the deck, though, and your average will be higher over time … even if you occasionally get a two- or three-card.
This past winter, for many, was a two- or three-card on the temperature scale, unusually low. Over the long term, though, the climate deck is still stacked for a higher average. And there’s no glee in that.