December 10, 2009

Where is global warming?

WHILE THE SCIENTISTS AND POLITICIANS in Copenhagen prattle on about global warming, we in western Washington state are experiencing record-low temperatures. It was 14 degrees here in Bellingham early this morning and I am wondering whether I should have winterized my boat more thoroughly.

She’s afloat in salt water, of course, and that water is about 40°F, so in theory she should be warmed from the bottom. But, in practice, an icy northeast wind blows in through the louvers in the companionway drop slide and freezes any bottles of water left lying in the galley.

Where is global warming when you need it, I say -- if there is such a thing as global warming. I read an online article in the German newspaper Der Spiegel the other day that said scientists are at a loss to explain why AVERAGE global temperatures have NOT gone up at all in the past 10 years. So global warming seems to be the wrong description. It’s a convenient political description.

What’s really happening is regional warming. There’s no doubt that some places, such as the Arctic region, are getting warmer. But there’s equally no doubt that others are getting colder.

The fact that the scientists are puzzled doesn’t surprise me. The earth does strange things, all on its own. Fossils tell us that there have been warming and cooling cycles over billions of years, long before man made any contribution to carbon dioxide build-up. We even know that the magnetic poles reverse themselves from time to time. The north magnetic pole was once the south magnetic pole.

I am always skeptical when I hear that temperatures have risen by one degree in the past 100 years. Can anyone be sure that a thermometer in use 100 years ago would relate with such precision to one made this year? Accurate to within one degree? Hmmm.

Anyway, a little global warming would be greatly appreciated around here right now. I could be very happy anchored in water warm enough to swim in, beneath skies of Caribbean blue, with a few coconut palms doing their little bendy wind dance on the white sandy beach just over yonder. I have sailed with ice on deck, and I tell you, I didn’t like it. I prefer it when the ice is tinkling in my drink, and the sweet lazy harmony of steel drums comes drifting across from the shore as I lie back in the cockpit.

Today’s Thought
Knowing how hard it is to collect a fact, you understand why most people want to have some fun analyzing it.
— Jesse L. Greenstein, Chairman, Dept. of Astronomy, Calif. Institute of Technology

Time flies like a speeding arrow.
Fruit flies like a rotten banana.


Anonymous said...

For the last decades tempertures in the nothern hemisphere have been rising year after year. The icecaps in Greenland and the poles are melting (I live in the Netherlands, half my country is below sealevel) If you don't believe in globalwarming, the least thing anybody should do is to make sure we dont reach a point of no return, just in case . . .


Oded Kishony said...

Even if there weren't global warming shouldn't we kick this crack-oil addiction of ours? Do we really need to find out just how polluted we can make this planet and get away with it? If the global warming doubters are wrong, we're doomed. If the scientists are wrong, we have a cleaner planet. Also let's not confuse 'weather' with 'climate'. My house may be freezing but I can still burn my hand on the stove.

Oded Kishony

Anonymous said...

It is always easier to make vague unsubstantiated and pleasant sounding proclamations than try to understand the details behind complex things like the conclusion that there is non-normal global warming taking place.
Things like the so-plausible question about whether there were even thermometers accurate to 1 degree available a hundred years ago artfully misleads the casual reader and avoids the fact that the measurements of temperature trend don't use 100-yr old thermometers but much more accurate and reliable temperature-driven stable isotope measurements in things that were created a hundred (and a thousand) years ago. One can argue about exact amounts, but the fact that the rate of change is higher than has been found during any previous period should, when considered in combination with the many other, independently-developed, methods for looking at temperature change, lead an open-minded person to conclude that 'this isn't normal'. No knowledgeable scientist has ever stated that the temperature is on a straight line increase. As you mentioned, nature varies and year-to-year and season-to-season the temperatures at a particular place are going to vary, both warmer and cooler. The presence of a hot summer or a hot year (or a couple of record hot years) does not prove there is warming, just as the presence of a colder than normal winter doesn't prove there is no warming. These are just variations around the overall averages, which is where the proof is to be found.
In fact, one CAN'T detect 'global' warming at any one location, and this is because of exactly the types of things you mentioned. It is only by combining measurements from all over the world that one can be sure there is an overall change taking place.
I'll finish by pointing out that the models of even the early people looking into the potential for there being warming predicted that such warming would result in parts of the planet getting warmer while other parts get colder, and that one of the outcomes of the rate of overall increase was an increase in the variability of the temperatures at individual locations.
There are lots of questions and uncertainties that remain about how much and when and why. The only thing that at this point can't be effectively argued by good science is that the overall global temperature is increasing at a rate faster than one can explain without attributing part of it to human activities.