an argument supporting anthropogenic global warming using recent weather patterns

but not supported by peer reviewed scientists, pity


Bill McKibben's recent piece in Rolling Stone, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math", is probably (pound for pound) the best piece ever written about the dire straights anthropogenic climate change has presented the human race.

I can't improve upon Mr. McKibben's words, but I CAN offer an instruction manual on reading his article:

  1. Read the first couple of paragraphs
  2. Feel sick to your stomach
  3. Continue reading while curled up in a fetal position.

"Global Warming's Terrifying New Math" lives up to its title. Hard numbers are presented. For instance:

  • "May was the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99"
  • "This June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States"
  • "Saudi authorities reported rain in Mecca during 109 degree heat -- the hottest recorded downpour in the planet's history"
  • Scientists think we can possibly add an additional 565 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere by 2050 without increasing the globes temperature by two degrees (the consensus climate tipping point). However, all the fuel reserves humans are currently planning to burn contain 2,795 gigatons. OUCH!

Bill! I'm a humble climate change cartoonist -- I didn't know there would be scary math! Hell, I didn't know there would be ANY math!

One of the stages of climate change denialism is to say the warming is all natural, so we shouldn't meddle. Meanwhile, we don't hesitate to drill, frack, and carve up mountain tops for fuel. We don't mind changing the flow of great rivers when it serves our needs. We've almost completely drained large bodies of water when we needed that water. We've converted enormous tracts of rainforest to cow pastures. So why do we hesitate to really take action on climate change?

Like I said recently about resistance to renewable energy, it seems climate contrarians feel the fight against climate change is just too difficult. Fair enough ... I simply ask that they please step aside so others can do the heavy lifting.

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Recency  | 
21 hours ago (10:40 PM)
Halfwit liberals. The fact that we may be in a warming trend implies neither that it's long term, nor that it's man-made, NOR that it's the end of the world. Children.
that crazy uncle from Amarcord
17 hours ago ( 2:56 AM)
Thanks for the snark and little else. Ooooh, you called us 'children'. That carries sooo much weight in these comments!
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17 hours ago ( 3:16 AM)
The evidence is strong that the current rapid warming trend is the result of human activity.

Which is more childish, to believe in facts, or to rant against the people who believe in them?
My micro bio is empty
24 hours ago ( 8:17 PM)
And people will continue to deny it.
04:41 PM on 07/24/2012
We just need bigger air conditioners
04:39 PM on 07/24/2012
In a (probably vain) attempt to forestall a raft of pedantic comments like those that accompany the original Rolling Stone article:

Yes, the statement about the "odds" of 327 consecutive months of above average temperatures being "3.7 x 10-99" is poorly phrased and is missing its exponent sign.

Yes, the number itself is almost certainly wrong because it doesn't account for autocorrelation.

HOWEVER, the basic point is entirely correct: The odds of 327 consecutive months of above average temperatures occurring by random chance alone are staggeringly long. It is, for all practical purposes, impossible. Just think

So let's not get bogged down in minutiae, OK? Just think of the odds as being "about 1 in a gazillion" and move on.
Neil Wagner
21 hours ago (10:55 PM)
I am, by nature, pragmatic and moderate.
I am in sync with what you've laid out. Having said that, I'd be interested to hear from the "Good Will Hunting" math gurus among us to get some additional perspective. Regardless of one specific calculation, I find Bill McKibben to be an important, dedicated and rational advocate for our survival.
Jim Milks
20 hours ago (12:18 AM)
"Yes, the number itself is almost certainly wrong because it doesn't account for autocorrelation."

Not sure on that one, Chris. When I switched to calculating the odds without autocorrelation on R (just doing 0.5^367), I got an answer of 3.326531 x 10^-111. I'll have to play around with a time series analysis, figure out the autocorrelation, and recalculate it.
12 hours ago ( 8:23 AM)
Well, that's interesting. I had assumed, as did many of the RS readers, that the number was just 0.5^367 (my trusty 70's-era HP calculator says the answer to that is a no-nonsense "0.00").

You might be interested in Tamino's post on a similar problem (odds of 13 consecutive months of temps in the top third of its historical distribution). Apparently these things are surprising tricky to calculate. He ends up deciding that a Monte Carlo simulation is probably the best technique:

BTW, he says that the lag 1 autocorrelation for US monthly data is .150, which is actually pretty low.
03:02 PM on 07/24/2012
Neil see physicist David Appell's blog for where Mckibben screwed up the math.
23 hours ago ( 8:42 PM)
David's website lists him as a freelance writer and journalist not a physicist.
20 hours ago (11:49 PM)
He has a PHD in physics

"I have a B.S. in mathematics and physics from the University of New Mexico, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in physics from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. I've also done graduate work in the creative writing department at Arizona State University."
12:43 PM on 07/24/2012
Neil I didn't need the instruction manuel. When I read the piece a few days ago I really did get sick to my stomach! Good suggestion asking those to move aside who can't do the heavy lifting. I for one am still in that fetal position. All the recycling, cutting back on using the car, not flying anywhere, shopping local. Where is it getting me, I'm asking. I dunno. Hopefully we won't need to have another Katrina like disaster to wake up everybody to the global disaster that we are facing into!
01:16 PM on 07/24/2012
Climate change is a fact. Let's figure out some good ideas on how to fix the climate. A consensus of action on CO2 might be near impossible but there are other plans being suggested to influence the climate in the desired direction. Adding SO2 to the atmosphere similar to the volcano emissions will certainly cool it all down and the effect goes away quickly. The cost is even more reasonable than trying to slow the CO2 emissions. There are other plans as well so let's work on the ones we might be able to accomplish,
Jim Milks
20 hours ago (12:13 AM)
The main problems with adding SO2 are two-fold. First, SO2 creates acid rain, with its own suite of problems. Second, once started, we'll never be able to stop or temperatures would rapidly rise unless we've ceased CO2 emissions and figured out ways to sequester the CO2 already in the atmosphere.
Neil Wagner
01:55 PM on 07/24/2012
Someday, the debates and foot-dragging will finally come to an end... at that point, unfortunately, humans might be following close behind.
11:55 AM on 07/24/2012
I invite all the climate change deniers to come to Iowa right now and experience our delightful weather. Yesterday in my town the national weather website posted the temp at 106 with a heat index (what it feels like if humidity is factored in) of 117--and this was only at 1:30 p.m. so it probably climbed a bit.Even with AC on all the time, I wake up feeling slightly nauseous, which is probably my body's natural reaction to the constant threat of dehydration, stressed systems, etc.

The annual bike ride across the state, RAGBRAI, is going on as planned, so I am hoping no one dies. What folly--no grown-ups called it off, obviously. Today the route will be dotted w/ ambulances ready to assist the inevitable victims of heat stress and stroke.

Yes, I know the difference between weather and climate. I will always choose to believe the word and research of folks like Bill McKibben and career scientists over those who can profit from the status quo rape of the earth (the oil men, etc.) and their paid-off fools.
What's he building in there?
24 hours ago ( 8:13 PM)
That is why we call them Rapeublicans.
Brophy Wednesday 25 July 2012 - 7:18 pm | | Global Warming
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