Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Key the extremes to their context

(via Climate Central.)

I'm not sure yet what I think of Mark Kleiman's post about how people always accept their side's arguments on a position and assume a contrary argument means the arguer is on the other team.  I'm no fan of centrism-worship, or of contrarianism-for-its-own-sake.  OTOH, a critical eye on the arguments used for our own side has some moral value.

In that sense, the 2012 record warmth in the lower 48 states, a record for 1.58% of the planet's surface for a single year, is getting overplayed.  At least, the key front and center should be context, that year after year, record highs generally exceed record lows, and that generally consistent result is significant additional support to the mountain of evidence for climate change.  What's important about 2012 in the lower 48, outside of bringing the American public mainstream a little a closer to the scientific mainstream, is how it reminds us of that context.*

Lose the context and you get big pronouncements like this from Watts Up:  "Low temperature records overwhelm highs in the USA this past week" (emphasis added).  Context may not cure foolishness, but it might help a little bit.

*One exception is if the 2012 record highs are so unprecedentedly big that natural variability couldn't ever explain them, equivalent to rolling two dice and having them come up 13.  That would be important, but I've missed any in-depth discussion of that possibility.


Steve Bloom said...

So you want this.

cRR Kampen said...

".. equivalent to rolling two dice and having them come up 13..."

Like the 'Summer in March', the Russian 2010 inferno, this:
and this: http://tamino.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/year-of-the-twister/ .

There are some more but this will do for illustration.
In depth discussion there is not, true, problably because the occurence of what I call 'hyperextremes' are by far the greatest climate change threat.
I kid u not.
The reason discussion lacks is explained in the book 'The Black Swan' by Nassim Nicholas Taleb -> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory .

Most brains are restricted by Gauss, well the world is not.


Hank Roberts said...

> the 2012 record warmth ... for
> 1.58% of the planet's surface
> for a single year, is getting
> overplayed.

Amen. This applies to journalists and bloggers too:

"You develop an instant global consciousness .... You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, 'Look at that, you son of a bitch.'"
- Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut

Anonymous said...

On a related note, the Keystone mantel has been laid down by some of our nation's preeminent climate scientists:

"Dear Mr. President,
You take office for the second time at a critical moment. As you may know, the U.S. has just recorded the hottest year in its history, beating the old mark by a full degree; the same year that saw the deep Midwest drought, and the fury of Hurricane Sandy, also witnessed the rapid and unprecedented melt of the Arctic ice pack.

If we are to restrain the rise in the planet’s temperature, it will require strong action from, among others, the planet’s sole superpower. Some of that work will be difficult, requiring the cooperation of Congress. But other steps are relatively easy.

Eighteen months ago some of us wrote you about the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, explaining why in our opinion its construction ran counter to both national and planetary interests. Nothing that has happened since has changed that evaluation; indeed, the year of review that you asked for on the project made it clear exactly how pressing the climate issue really is.

We hope, as scientists, that you will demonstrate the seriousness of your climate convictions by refusing to permit Keystone XL; to do otherwise would be to undermine your legacy.
Thank you,"

James Hansen
Research Scientist
The International Research Institute for Climate and Society
The Earth Institute, Columbia University
Ralph Keeling
Scripps CO2 Program Scripps Institution of Oceanography
John Harte
Professor of Ecosystem Sciences
University of California
Jason E. Box
Byrd Polar Research Center
John Abraham
Associate Professor, School of Engineering
University of St. Thomas
Ken Caldeira
Senior Scientist. Department of Global Ecology
Carnegie Institution
Michael MacCracken
Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs
Climate Institute
Michael E. Mann
Professor of Meteorology
Director, Earth System Science Center
The Pennsylvania State University
James McCarthy
Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography
Harvard University
Michael Oppenheimer
Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs
Woodrow Wilson School and Department of Geosciences
Princeton University
Raymond T. Pierrehumbert
Louis Block Professor in the Geophysical Sciences
The University of Chicago
Richard Somerville
Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
George M. Woodwell
Founder, Director Emeritus, and Senior Scientist
Woods Hole Research Center
Mauri Pelto
Department of Environmental Science
Nichols College
David Archer
Professor, Department of Geophysical Sciences
The University of Chicago
Dr. Ted Scambos
Lead Scientist, National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado at Boulder
Terry L. Root
Senior Fellow
Stanford University
Alan Robock, Professor II
Distinguished Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences
Rutgers University

Anonymous said...

"Low temperature records overwhelm highs in the USA this past week"

Watts has just missed his chance to claim that "northern hemisphere temperature have been steadily declining for the last 6 months: global warming is a myth".

Bernard J.

Brian said...

cRR - yes I was wondering about the Russian example, and similar claims raised about Pakistan flooding. I just haven't seen it argued for the US in 2012, although these are still early days.

Sou said...

Has it been overplayed or is it simply that the media in the USA are just waking up to the fact there might be something in this AGW business? Most of what I've read puts the hot year in the USA in the context of other extremes - and as an example of what's to come. Not so much in isolation as proof of global warming.

In Australia there has been a fair amount of column space given to the recent heat wave that covered the continent. The Bureau of Meteorology has linked it to climate change and IMO are correct in doing so.

Each decade is hotter than the one before. "Averages" rise over time as the 30 year baseline shifts higher. Young people are more used to this hotter world than oldies like me, so they need to be told that it wasn't always like this and doesn't have to get too much worse if we act soon enough.

Hank Roberts said...

So how far do you need to extend the geographic range before you're not seeing the trend? Is it a record for the USA+Mexico+Canada?