ThinkProgress has a good article about how global warming is causing the recent outbreaks of extreme weather. The article is worth reading in full,  and also includes this video, which does a pretty good job explaining things:

You know, my Republican friends often say: “What global warming? It’s nice and cool outside right now.” That’s why the term “climate change” was introduced; because “climate” is basically an averaging of what the weather is doing. So, global warming does not mean it will henceforth be warmer than previously all day, every day, but rather that the average trend is towards warming.

And moreover, slight changes in averages can have a major ripple effect throughout the whole system.

Well, I’m not a scientist, but the video features people who are. They explain everything pretty well.

(Hat Tip to Private Buffoon.)

We’ve had an unusually warm winter in the U.S, and yesterday there was a deadly outbreak of tornadoes. Here is a Reuters article by Deborah Zabarenko from over a week ago about experts in the field predicting a bad tornado season. To quote from the article:

Climate change is indirectly related to this forecast because strong thunderstorms create conditions where tornadoes can form, and strong thunderstorms could be fueled by the warmer-than-normal surface waters of the Gulf of Mexico, according to Paul Walker, senior meteorologist at Accuweather.

Obviously, you can’t say “it’s climate change” just based on two bad tornado seasons in a row. But it’s still an important–and tragic–data point.

I’ve often wondered if there’s any means of dissipating a tornado, or lessening its force somehow. They seem to have pretty good advance warning about them, so there might be time to put something together. I was reading about Project Stormfury, and even though it was a total failure, I wonder if it might be the germ of an idea for something worthwhile, either because tornadoes have different properties or else by seeding them with different substances. I also found this forum discussion on the topic of tornado prevention, for what it’s worth.

Or we could decide to believe that humanity has no impact on the environment. That’s also an option.

I like a good espionage story, full of suspicion and plot twists and, of course, morally ambiguous characters. It’s even better if you throw in some charged political issues. And here we are, lucky enough to have one in the real world. I, for one, am thrilled.

A scientist named Peter Gleick used a false name to obtain documents from an outfit called “The Heartland Institute” that purportedly shows that institute’s “donors, fundraising efforts and plans to spread doubt about climate change.” Heartland says that these documents have been faked.

Gleick now says that what he did was wrong. Personally, lying to obtain documents like this doesn’t bother me that much, because it’s a fairly minor lie being told to learn a much bigger truth, but if it turns out he forged them, that’s a very serious matter indeed. In fact, if that’s the case, he’s actually “spread doubt about climate change” himself. But if the documents are proven to be genuine, then I think it’s justifiable.

Fox News, of course, is quite eager to say he has already done this. Apparently, for them, the mere fact that someone would lie about their name to obtain information automatically renders the information they have obtained meaningless.

But enough about the players; we want the MacGuffin! You can read the documents here, so make of them what you will.

UPDATE: I guess I should clarify that I don’t condone lying like Gleick did, even if it really is to obtain legitimate information for a good cause. However, I still can see how it might be necessary to do this kind of thing to expose corruption sometimes. I mean, if Gleick were an investigative journalist and not a scientist, would that make this different? What if he were a detective? Like I said, it seems “morally ambiguous” as of right now.

I see that Rick Santorum said at a campaign event “I’ve never supported even the hoax of global warming.” I’m sure this is quite a popular statement among his supporters. I know quite a few people who I’m sure applaud this claim.

Whenever I write about global warming, or climate change, or whatever you like to call it, I always feel obligated to mention that I’m not a climate scientist, and thus my opinion goes for very little.

I know that lots of credible scientists do say that there is such a thing as climate change–specifically, man-made climate change–so that’s a point in favor of that idea. But of course, they could be wrong. It can happen in science. Or, as some of my conservative friends suspect, they could be part of a massive liberal conspiracy. This strikes me as highly unlikely, but it is not actually possible to entirely disprove the allegation.

No, I rely on, as a conservative might say “good ol’ common sense.” Or should that be “commonsense”? Turning it into one word has been popular lately; it seems kind of like Newspeak to me, but whatever.

The world’s human population has just hit 7 billion recently–some say it happened last October, some say it a little later, but the point is there are more humans on the planet then ever before. The planet, however, has not grown to accommodate them.

Now, I believe the typical human body temperature is around 98.6 Fahrenheit. That means the planet now has more 98.6 degree furnaces on it than ever before. If you have a room with ten furnaces in it, and you put another furnace into the room, does the room become hotter?

Obviously, it’s a big planet. It can take quite a bit, so this isn’t going to have major repercussions. Maybe it doesn’t even register. Beats me. I don’t know the first thing about biology, chemistry or physics. But still, I assume it has some effect. It would be kind of weird if it didn’t, right?

When you add in the fact that humans have started engaging in activities over the last century that had never occurred previously in the history of the planet, you again have to suspect that this has some effect on the atmosphere. Again, if it’s not having some effect, it seems to me it means rethinking most of what we know about causality and the nature of reality.

What the probable effects of this are, I can’t tell. Trained climate scientists presumably can, but of course they, along with any members of the press who transmit their findings, will automatically be dismissed as members of the liberal conspiracy.

But it seems to me that believing in the general concept of human activity changing the climate does not require you to put any store by what these scientists say. It seems to me that it can be worked out by simple logic. I mean, if I could do it, surely anyone else could.

P.S. If anyone with any scientific training reads this, and has anything to add, for or against climate change, your comments would be most welcome.

Airplanes can change the weather, according to a new study. It’s not a major effect, but it appears they can marginally increase local precipitation.

This is the sort of thing I find fascinating, for I cannot help thinking that people will gain greater understanding of the various ways we can manipulate the weather in the coming decades. I suspect that one of the ultimate effects of the climate change issue will be not having “no impact”, but rather people discovering new ways of changing the weather patterns. (I know weather and climate are different things, but they are nonetheless related.)

Of course, this might not always be a good thing; as people will probably think they know more than they do, and end up making costly mistakes. It reminds me of early efforts at economic manipulation, when policy makers were doing things to the economy that often had the opposite of the anticipated effect. Obviously, economies and weather patterns are both very complicated systems.

But then again, I may just be crazy. That’s a theory many of my friends propose when I mention this.

I am becoming increasingly inclined to think that Rick Perlstein is a genius. His books are both very excellent, and I have just got through reading his fascinating article on the lies the Republicans tell. Like all he does, it’s a sprawling piece, covering many people and incidents, but what interested me most was his contrasting the supposedly very honest-but-gloomy Jimmy Carter with the lying optimist, Ronald Reagan. Perlstein writes: “The Gipper’s inauguration ushered in the ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ era of political lying.”

Now, yes; Reagan is associated very much with optimism. (The word “sunny” often immediately precedes or follows the popular press references to him.)  Still, this isn’t all the Republicans are about. Paul Ryan’s whole budget plan is predicated on the idea of him being a man willing to tell the “tough truths” we need, but don’t want, to hear. (To hear the veracity of this claim questioned, see this, or anything Paul Krugman has ever written about Paul Ryan.)

So, the point clearly isn’t that Republicans sugarcoat everything; sometimes they say optimistic things and other times they say pessimistic things. The reason for all this, I think, goes back to the American exceptionalism thing; the Republicans don’t believe much stuff about America being flawed; they want to talk about the flaws introduced by those who are in some way “alien” to America.

The issue Perlstein explicitly raises is the matter of Climate Change–why are Republicans saying the science demonstrating it is false? One answer I can see is that they are all beholden to oil corporations. Another is that, as Perlstein says, they don’t want to hear they can’t use all the damn resources they please, if that is their wish. They feel, as the Governor of Louisiana said, that “Americans can do anything”.

You might say that the Republican version of events is optimistic and blithe. “We can use all the resources we want, at whatever rate we like, as intended by God.” is their view–correct me if I’m wrong. On the other hand, the fact that people complain of climate change requires, in the Republican version of things, a conspiracy of international Socialists and Dictators who control the Universities, the Democratic party, and many media outlets. This is not optimism.

Incidentally, I’ve written about this issue before, and I’ve always wondered: how many of the Republicans think of themselves as “lying for a cause”, and how many think it’s all completely true?

The Republicans are going into their annual “there is winter weather so there can be no global warming” mode.

It’s really annoying to me.

That is all, for now.

UPDATE: About the title, which I realize now probably doesn’t quite make sense given how I wrote the post: the idea was to convey that climate is just an average of weather. And another word for average is “mean”. But the more I think about it, the more I think it’s kind of an obscure–not to say stupid–pun that isn’t well set-up in the post. However, in my defense, it seemed very funny at 11 o’clock last night.

Concerning politics, it is often said that “reasonable people can disagree”.

Why?

After all, when it comes to most political issues, it would seem that one side must be right and the other must be wrong, since they appear to believe the exact opposite things on all issues. Presumably, therefore, reasonable people will all be able to figure out what the correct policy is, leaving only unreasonable people to oppose them.

The answer to this, however, is that most people are not (and maybe nobody is) totally sure what the best policy is in most cases. Often, two opposing policies may have different pros and cons and it may not be clear which (to borrow a term from economics) maximizes societal welfare.

However, because this sort of thing is very hard for the average person to understand–no one really has time after a hard day’s work, to examine political nuances–this sort of thing is up to experts to discuss. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to discuss them, so their explanations must be succinct.

(This, in turn, leads to simplifying the issue into terms which make political polarization virtually inevitable, i.e. “It’s impossible to explain all the details–all you really need to know is that [whoever] is bad.”)

It’s not that people are stupid–it’s just that you need an advanced degree in economics to understand whether the Fed ought to print money in a recession or not. And if you go and get that degree, you won’t be able to get the necessary degree in climatology to understand climate change. Add in all the other issues we face and, well, nobody has the time for all that.

This means that we must rely on experts in these fields to make policy recommendations, but this inherently makes people who are not experts in any of these fields feel annoyed, especially if the experts are (or even appear to be) wrong at any time.

This sort of thing, of course, leads to populism and anti-“elitism”. It’s understandable, really–who would want to feel they were being controlled by a bunch of (mostly well-to-do) people who appear (to the layman) not to know what they are doing half the time?

Now, we seemingly have a solution to this problem ready-made in the form of the internet. Unfortunately, so far, it doesn’t seem to be working. Most people don’t seem to use the internet for the purpose of gaining access to more knowledge on many of these difficult subjects.

Two questions:

  1. Is my assessment correct?
  2. If so, what could be done about this problem?