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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Warmth in winter: American perception and global reality 

I've been mocking Al Gore for being a chickengreen, and that has evoked the usual lefty accusations that I'm a tool of Exxon and the right-wing smear machine. This is, of course, hogwash (notwithstanding my much-advertised respect for the oil industry). I am directionally in agreement with Al Gore, at least insofar as I think there is a strong probability that human activity is causing change in the global climate that will work out badly for many ecosystems and some relatively small percentage of humans. I just don't like pandering to the celebrity class, rank hypocrisy, sucking up to Islamic kings, or Al Gore in general.

That said, I remain interested in the question of global climate change, including in particular the different perception of the problem in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Foreigners, especially Europeans, think that global climate change is the biggest threat to the future of, well, everything. The issue has far less political punch in the United States, even though there is some evidence that it has risen in rank among "environmental concerns."

Why doesn't climate change animate the electorate in the United States the way it seems to do in Europe? I believe it is because we have not experienced it in the same way, either at the level of scientifically meaningless anecdotes or long-term temperature trends.


In the category of useless climate anecdotes, I was a tad bemused by this graphic on page A22 of this morning's New York Times. In Central Park, at least, February was the coldest on record since 1979. As nearly as I can tell, the graphic is not available online, and the Times has not written an actual news story reporting that particularly climate factoid, notwithstanding a couple of competing stories in other papers. In Chicago, this February was the 9th coldest in 137 years, so cold that it extinguished the huge average temperature surplus built up in January. Same basic idea in Philadelphia. Duluth was buried.

Now, local weather means exactly nothing in the estimation of global climate change -- Ireland had a very warm February, as did Malta (to pick two random examples), and the United Kingdom had the second-warmest winter on record (including the February data). January, which was almost balmy by New Jersey standards, shattered the record for warmth globally, but across the United States there have been 48 warmer Januarys in the last 112 years. This year, at least, temperature in the most populated parts of the United States is average, or colder than average, and the rest of the world is having its warmest December - February in history. The recent news coverage has reflected this tendency, with the foreign media much more focused on climate change than the American media.

This is not purely a reflection of piles of snow in Duluth and barely cool weather in Ireland. If we look at a generation's worth of actual data, the different impact of changing temperatures around the world probably explains why the issue inspires such passion in Europe and Asia (and among the tiny fraction of Americans who travel to those places regularly), but is a political loser in the United States.

The following global temperature maps from the United States National Climate Data Center expose these radically different experiences.

First, the change in temperature around for the months of December - February, for the years 1979-2003 (red dots represent warmer temperatures, blue dots are cooler temperatures, and the size of the dot reflects the magnitude of the change):



It is obvious (click to enlarge if it isn't) that large parts of the northern hemisphere, including the United States, have gotten a lot warmer during December - February since 1979.

Now, look at the different result in the northern spring (March - May) and summer (June - August):




Starting in March, the United States has a very different experience from Europe and northern Asia. In general, the rest of the populated northern hemisphere is much hotter than it used to be. In the United States, the only meaningful changes have been in the southwest, which is thinly populated and only marginally influences American politics. The ugly truth is that we Americans are, in general, enjoying warmer winters without paying the price of hotter summers. In most of (unairconditioned) Europe the winters were much milder to begin with, but the summers are now significantly hotter. Therefore, speaking only for us American humans, climate change seems, so far, like a good deal for us, even if it is a bad deal for them. No wonder the subject generates so much rage in Europe, but not nearly enough concern in the United States to motivate meaningful changes in behavior or move a decisive number of votes.


22 Comments:

By Anonymous davod, at Sun Mar 04, 11:13:00 AM:

I watched part of a program on Discovery last night. A Norwegian commentator said that while they have little space for growing corn or sugar cane they have trees they can use for converting to ethanol.

A country with its own supplies of oil and gas, as with the US, is going to start chopping down trees to create a fuel which takes more energy to produce than it creates.

Boy! what a wonderfull world.  

By Anonymous Bird of Paridise, at Sun Mar 04, 03:06:00 PM:

Leftists will always claim that those to reject all this nonsnense of GLOBAL WARMING are with BIG OIL and yet AL GORE is the owner of OXIDENTAL PATROLIUM and just how much fuel did all those wackos who attended that rediclous EARTH SUMMIT in 1992 use?  

By Blogger SR, at Sun Mar 04, 07:17:00 PM:

This is the type of reasoned discussion that needs to occur instead of "documentaries" suggesting 20 ft. rises in sea level. That being said, I bet it is still pretty damn cold in Siberia.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Sun Mar 04, 08:47:00 PM:

Your ability to convey scientific data (correctly) has improved a ton in the past few years!

Sociology isn't my field, so I won't chime in on your conclusions other than to point out Australia has benefited from both warmer winters and cooler summers. You could check where they fit on the activist/denialist spectrum.

Of course, Aussies may be more receptive to the idea of global atmospheric impact since we thinned and then fixed the ozone layer.  

By Blogger Drama Queen, at Mon Mar 05, 08:28:00 AM:

Nice presentation, Hawk. You've still got a ways to go to convince many of your regular readers that human-influenced global warming exists, but you've made a start.

The day you swing Bird of Paridise [sic] to your point of view is the day you can rest easy.  

By Blogger Drama Queen, at Mon Mar 05, 08:29:00 AM:

Oops.

This and the above comment is from Screwy Hoolie visiting with friend, DQ.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Mar 05, 02:08:00 PM:

Global Warming has taken on the tones of a secular religion, both here on the Left and in Europe where Left/Right isn't really a distinction, much like CNN.

Adhere to its tenets, despite the cost or huge leaps of faith required to believe it, or you shall be damned, smited, and flung into the burning pits of Hell. Or Hoboken. Either works.  

By Anonymous Bird of Paridise, at Mon Mar 05, 11:45:00 PM:

Al Gore blabbers about global warming he is demanding that the rest of us quit using so much electricity quit driving so much and turn off the light when not needed then he has a big $30:000 electric bill and thats more energy used by AL GORE in one month then the avrage american family uses in one year. Time for AL GORE to put his money where his mouth is and keep his mouth shutand quit giving off all that HOT AIR and HYPOCRACY  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Mar 06, 03:28:00 PM:

People, I've spoken about global dimming, earth crust displacement, and meteor hits, and I may as well paint a face on the wall and talk to that.

Al Gore is a trumpet
The real story is extremely complex, and won't be served by a few short term maps.

While ever the Eurabians treat it as political, and trumpets preach from their pulpits, a rational discussion is impossible.

That being so, I am extremely reluctant to waste my time again.

However, I am tempted.

Here are a few links on global dimming.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/horizon/dimming_trans.shtml

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4171591.stm

http://www.uea.ac.uk/~e057135/

So I'll say it again, Global dimming is temporarily offsetting global warming, proving global warming to be a more powerful factor than first thought.
We have a temporary breathing space, while china and india add to global dimming.
The reduction of global dimming (atmospheric particulates) MUST BE ORCHESTRATED WITH the reduction in greenhouse gasses, or the outcome will be bleak.
That is at a global level.

At a local level, localities suffer now. The models are complex.

Not everything read is on the internet.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Apr 07, 12:45:00 PM:

Hmmmm....I'm wondering what those graphs would look like for the period 1940 - 1975, when there's general agreement that average global temperatures fell. Did they fall more in the US than elsewhere? Would that help explain the 1970's Newsweek and Time cover stories predicting a new Ice Age? And even if not, isn't focusing on a warming trend following a cooling trend, and treating the former as the wave of the future while ignoring the latter, just a tad disengenuous?  

By Blogger jsv433, at Sat Apr 07, 02:05:00 PM:

Anonymous (aka global dimming guy):

Perhaps you are correct about your theory on global dimming. I am not a scientist and don't claim to know, but I will certainly investigate the links you provided. However, the condescending tone you use to deliver your warning is why few will ever listen to you. The proportion of people who post here compared to those who just read suggests that you are not always the only smart guy in the room.

That being said, if your theory bears out, wouldn't that suggest that the ultimate reason for increases in the "global temperature" has to be from increased output from the sun? Are you suggesting that particulate air pollution is what has actually SAVED us up to this point? Way to go China!  

By Blogger tarpon bill, at Sat Apr 07, 07:21:00 PM:

... and then there is the rest of the story. There is no denying the Earth is warming, but so are other planets and moons in our solar system. I doubt there is much we can do about the sun getting hotter, nor the fact that in the not too distant past grapes were grown outside of London.

Change has been a continuous function of Earth's climate for billions of years -- Just examine the ice core records, it's been hotter, it's been cooler. If you ask me, I tend to agree with the last alarmist prediction, the next ice age is coming -- Just look at the records, the Earth spent most of it's lifetime as a snowball.

But there are solutions, solutions that work for both the alarmists and the deniers.

1. Nuclear power for electrical generation.

2. Defund terrorism, use biofuels to replace oil -- carbon neutral biofuels are good for all. The 2005 energy act was a really good start.

3. Drill for our own oil and gas.

Short list, once these things are done, we can see what is going on a few years down the road.

I note this from the current UN IPCC AR4 WG2 report ... “For the first time we are not just arm-waving with models,” Martin Perry, who conducted the grueling negotiations, told reporters.

Simple question, we now have the admission that the arm waving with the models of the last three reports was contrived, how do we know that today's arm waving with models is any less contrived? After all, they still use computer models to try and predict the future -- Or have they some invention they are keeping secret?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Apr 07, 11:33:00 PM:

TigerHwak:

Mo' Temperature Increase does't necessarily equal Mo' Problem.

The Yale School of Forestry and Dept. of Economics have a very long-term modeling program that estimates (in accord with common sense) that up to about 2.5C - 3C increase in temperatures, Russia, Europe and Canada win, the US and China break-even and anybody near the equator loses.

Jim  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sat Apr 07, 11:43:00 PM:

Jim,

By and large, climate change does not threaten humans. To be sure, patterns of human settlement are very recent -- there were only 500 million people in the world in 1690, so virtually all of human settlement occurred quite recently in climate time -- so many people live in places that will suffer if the sea levels rise or the deserts spread. But people can move, and technology can help them adjust. The big potential victims of rapid climate change are not people, but ecosystems. The loss of species that cannot adjust will be shocking, and far greater than anything within human history. If climate change is the result of human activity, humans will have been responsible for that.  

By Anonymous Scott M, at Sun Apr 08, 10:14:00 AM:

Seems to me that if species loss necessarily accompanies climate warming from some unknown global mean, arbitrarily set by Algore and his fawning masses, then the species left over from the last "global warming" events everyone must admit occurred are pretty resiliant.

I'm just an ignorant conservative, but from my drooling perspective it seems the earth will be just fine as in the past. Change happens, unrelated to man, and things are fine, but because man ostensibly contributes some near negligible effect it is expected to be calamitous? Really.  

By Anonymous bgates, at Sun Apr 08, 01:35:00 PM:

Do leftists like to decry the coming wave of extinction among species that can't adjust to minor temperature changes at the same time they complain evolution isn't being taught in schools, or do they wait a decent interval?  

By Blogger Ronald Coleman, at Sun Apr 15, 12:53:00 PM:

You might want to check out this article in the Atlantic which actually addresses the question of which regions could actually benefit from global warming.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Apr 15, 02:04:00 PM:

A few quick points:

At no point over hundreds of millions of years has CO2 ever driven climate change!

Take a look at this chart showing CO2 levels vs temps and you'll see what I mean.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/toptechwriter/112747981/in/set-72157594504592593/

Notice that in the distant past CO2 levels were 17 times as high as now, wonder what prevented us from becoming like Venus?

Next point, take a look at this NASA site for weather station data.
http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/station_data/

Click on a high northern latitude place like Alaska and you'll see the stations that are in that region. Click on the ones with really long term data and you'll see we're not even as warm as it was back in the 1930-40s.

Next point, take a look at this description as to how NASA calculates surface temperatures that get used to create the scary graphics showing the world about to burn up:

"This can only be done with the help of computer models, the same models that are used to create the daily weather forecasts. We may start out the model with the few observed data that are available and fill in the rest with guesses (also called extrapolations) and then let the model run long enough so that the initial guesses no longer matter, but not too long in order to avoid that the inaccuracies of the model become relevant. This may be done starting from conditions from many years, so that the average (called a 'climatology') hopefully represents a typical map for the particular month or day of the year."

Last point, we're just coming out of a Little Ice Age that occurred some 400 years ago, it's completely reasonable for temps to be rising!  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Apr 15, 02:50:00 PM:

Proof of American exceptionism?

In the good old days, when natives saw a monster eating the sun, they banged their pots and pans and drums and what-nots until the monster retreated. It's very effective, you know. After less than 15 minutes of raising a ruckus, the monster spat out the sun, and all was fine.

After Global Coolers's relentless attack in the 70's of the last century, the Cooling Monster left. The Warming Monster took advantage of the void and moved in. Like pot bangers of old, Global Warmers just have to persist until the Warming Monster left. It works every time, the Warmers just have to bang the pots and pans harder, the Monster will leave. In fact, we already see the Warming Monster retreating wherever the Warmers are protesting. The only problem is to maintain a balance, so that the Warming Monster won't leave in a huff and let the Cooling Monster return.  

By Blogger Joel, at Sun Apr 15, 04:30:00 PM:

Men can computer model known materials like steel I beams or pre-stressed concrete pillars which are supporting static loads (loads which do not move). Some men with a lot of training and experience can computer model known materials into structural components which hold dynamic loads (loads which move). Dynamic loads are much more complex due to the increase of variables about load vectors and how the stresses move through the structure.

Some men claim to be able to computer model the financial markets, but as they do not have all the money in their hands, I hold their claims to be somewhat circumspect.

There is a term in computer modeling of financial markets called "Curve Fitting". It is when you develop a set of parameters which makes up your model and then tweak those parameters until your model's output matches the result you desire when compared to historic data. You then try to use this model to predict future financial markets and you will fail spectacularly, as have hundreds before you. This is due to the assumptions programmed into your model not being consistent with the real time factors moving the system you are trying to model, be it physical, financial, or climate.

Computer models regarding weather and climate are just as prone to these failures as financial or physical structure computer models. I shall require a computer model to be accurate in forward testing before considering its' extrapolations to have any weight whatsoever regarding reality.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Apr 15, 06:55:00 PM:

Anonymous 2:50 brings up a good point: were Europeans subjected to the same relentless propaganda about how CO2 emissions were taking the planet into a new ice age during the 70's and 80's? I think the reversal in that position drives a lot of AGW skepticism.

Also, two observations from a few years spent as the only American in an otherwise all European office: 1.)Europeans have an exponentially greater respect for authority, particularly academic, than Americans do, and 2.)they are far more willing to accept appeals to authority, even from folks whose expertise is not in the field they are discussing. Your mileage may vary.

Another reason for American skepticism or indifference on the issue might be one of weighing the costs and benefits. The worst case scenarios appear to ignore the reality that extreme restrictions on economic activity and the accompanying reduction in global economic output will kill people too. Given the environmental movement's indifference to that sort of damage (at least when the victims have dark skin and don't speak English - the anti-DDT movement alone has killed 20+ million people - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/africa/1677073.stm ) it's not surprising that they don't discuss that. But neither is it clear that AGW, even if it was occurring, would do any more damage than attempts to stop it.  

By Blogger Justin, at Sun Jul 08, 03:30:00 AM:

I am an engineering graduate student, and during my undergraduate education, I tried to model the force on the shoulder joint from throwing a baseball, using just three simple position points for various locations. My friends and I were well-instructed and still had a difference of almost two degrees of magnitude. These climate models presume to predict the world's heat content accurately, but can't predict the path of a hurricane more than three days ahead, accurately at least. That project made me realize that most computer models are oversimplified to the degree that they no longer are relevant to the reality. Modeling the whole planet is something that all the programmers in the world would struggle with, much less 10 guys with Macs and agendas.  

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