3/23/2012—I understand that the shocking warmth in the Eastern United States, including Pittsburgh, is coming to an end. It has been so unbelievably warm for two weeks that even deniers of global warming feel obliged to address the subject. KQV radio, owned by Richard Scaife, had one of their public comment questions about whether the warmth is caused by global warming or by local factors—the answer was 90% local factors.
Several observations. First, there is such a thing as confirmation bias. Every instance of warmth seems to me, a committed global warming person, as evidence of global warming. Yet, I don’t think that way about cold or the absence of hurricanes.
Second, and conversely, since all weather has local causes, it makes little sense to dismiss extreme warm weather just because there is some particular reason for it. Yes, for example, there is some kind of high pressure system, but it has not brought this kind of heat in March for such a long period in living memory. To put it another way, what do the opponents of global warming think it would look like if it did occur?
Third, it is not just heat but the absence of cold that shows the world is warming. The recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by scientists denying global warming or its human causes or that we should do something about it, made the claim that it has not gotten warmer in ten years, by which they meant no new global yearly temperature records since 2002. It is certainly the case that if global warming is true, there must eventually be such records set. But the long term average temperature keeps going up even without such records every time there is an above average year. In other words, where are all the cooler than average years? If global warming were not true, we would be due for around thirty years in a row of cooler than average global temperatures. That is not happening.
Finally, I am now hearing how the Earth has been warmer than it is now, much warmer in fact—there is fossil evidence of rich life in Antarctica. But the disaster of global warming has nothing to do with heat that destroys human life. If Pittsburgh becomes the new North Carolina, it won’t kill anyone in Pittsburgh.
The problem is we are organized for the climate we have now, not some new one. Of course the people on the coasts can move as the sea rises. Of course the people of the southwest can move as the climate dries out. Of course wheat production can move to Canada from Texas. But there is a word for such necessary movements—catastrophe. I hope global warming deniers are around to deliver the bad news.