Despite being in the middle of nowhere I do sometimes get on the Net and so saw the news report that April was the hottest month on record (actually tied with previous record). Now in thinking about this post I was going to say this is obviously wrong since in my area we had a miserable lingering winter well into normal springtime, but the source I used for my link has a nice temperature map that shows exactly what I personally experienced (the blue area of unseasonably low temps).
And that’s my point. All of us are much more aware of our immediate surroundings and therefore have a hard time with the GLOBAL part of global climate change. I’ve never been to Siberia so how could I know that’s where they had an unseasonably hot sprint. Or that, averaged over the entire globe, despite the lowest temps in my area, the GLOBAL answer is a record high. Despite modern communications that make it possible for us to know what is happening outside our immediate experience those abstract and dry facts don’t override our own local experience.
I’ve often heard denialist making jokes about cold temps or record snowfall or whatever as obvious proof global climate change is a fraud. This is not just a cynical bit of denialism but also reveals the inability of humans to think outside their immediate circumstances. First, weather is not climate (a common refrain from scientists, now ridiculed by deniers), but that is the point. Global climate change: a) doesn’t mean only higher temps, but also it describes more extreme weather, that may in fact be unusual cold, hence the change in terminology from global warming to global climate change (which the denialist label as spin), and, b) it is the broad pattern (both time and geography) that defines the ‘climate’ trends, not specific isolated events. In fact the denialist just show how stupid they are by their lack of understanding in variability of any observations. Second, a few fluctuations (exceptions) do NOT change the broader picture. Global climate change scientific consensus is based on scientific analysis (not human anecdotal observation) and is thoroughly based on statistical analysis that can both discard outlier points and spot broad and persistent trends with statistical confidence. Since so few people today, in U.S. (and most politicians) have science study, esp. statistical data analysis, even if there POV is genuine it is also wrong because it uses flawed myopic human observation instead of rational scientific observation.
I could easily demonstrate this flaw in human reasoning by my five days in Smith Falls. If the only thing I knew was what was happening exactly where I was AND I didn’t have any training and/or deeper understanding in observational variability (check all my tedious previous posts on weight loss and exercise (under Nate Silver tag) if you don’t think I understand this) I might easily reach wrong conclusions. Despite being firmly in spring season my first and second nights at the campground froze my water container I left outside and I just barely felt warm enough (almost switched to my -20F down bag). And my first night when I went to sleep with completely clear skies and thus left a lot of stuff outside I was unpleasantly surprised by everything being wet. So based on this tiny dataset I might assume cold and rainy for the rest of my stay and thus possibly even leave. But the third day was completely clear and warm. Ah, a new trend. The fourth day was rainy and stayed foggy well into afternoon. Ah, the old trend resumes, cold and rainy.
I like thunderstorms (at least while observing them from protection from their effects) so after discovering Smith Falls had public WiFi so I was able to now get “predictions” (i.e. weather forecasts) that gave high confidence of thunderstorms. Of course, that was for a weather station 20 miles away. But this changed my decision to leave since I wanted to experience the thunderstorm. But alas on my fifth day it’s completely clear and not the usual muggy feel that precedes thunderstorms (in this part of the world). Just before going to bed I did observe lightning far to the west, about where the forecast had come from, so I went to be disappointed to miss the storm. Well, storms move, don’t they, so about 2am I was awakened to huge storm and furious rain (so much I worried hail was coming to and would destroy my thin nylon tent and pummel me). Amazingly I actually fell back asleep during the worst of it. And then finally, upon departure day which is a lot of work to pack up my camp, I am sweating like crazy because now I’ve got the normal muggy and hot weather.
Now, I know, everyone knows local weather changes day-to-day, even hour-to-hour, but my point is that any mental model and projection I’d make based solely on my immediate observations would be wildly wrong. Yet it’s a natural human temptation to do exactly that. Our “common sense” may be common, but often it’s not much sense. Science provides the tools to: a) make better and more accurate observations, b) analyze those observations, ideally with a large enough dataset to achieve statistical significance (plus tell us our analysis is NOT significant, despite appearances and guesses and gut fell), and, c) create a model that can be used for more accurate predictions.
One would think this is obvious but surprisingly it is not. So not just the denialists but the other suckers who listen to them fail to accurately understand what is happening, but due to poor observation, analysis and prediction, and due to excessively localized observation.
But beyond that, even if people get past this traps, there is still the “it won’t happen to me”. So what does any American care if it’s hot in Siberia when it’s cold in the Great Plains. But the other part about “global” is that today we don’t live in isolation. Almost everything we consume comes from somewhere else and now from everywhere in the world. Americans, even those well above sea level, can’t simply hide and ignore global climate change; it will come and bite them.
It’s amazing to me that the fearful public who listens to the denialist manage to underplay the effects of global climate change (or deny it altogether) but then drastically over-estimate the effects on them from any remedies to slow or halt man-caused climate change. It’s entirely possible that doing something to reduce our carbon footprint will have a net positive effect on jobs and incomes, not reduce them. Now certainly the Kochs will get a few billion less when they can’t peddle as much dirty energy, but the average person will possibly actually benefit from new technologies to combat global climate change (and even possibly get a new job combating it). So while we ignore the harm of the climate change itself we panic about the unlikely possibility doing something about it will hurt us. And that’s the power of the Koch propaganda and the Repugs and Fox, that there scare about the wrong thing when we should be concerned about the right things. So that’s just one more layer of stupidity on top of the ignorance of science.