It was unseasonably, strangely warm yesterday, hitting a reported high of 68 (69 at the airport) in the middle of December. That’s 12 degrees warmer than the average Atlanta high for Dec. 9 of 56 degrees.
Now, if I were to adopt the debating technique of certain global-warming skeptics, I might seize upon yesterday’s freakish heat as proof that the scientists are right and that global warming is real. Just as deniers use an odd snowstorm in Houston to scoff at claims that the planet is getting hotter, I could do the same:
“Look how warm it was yesterday! Almost 70 in mid-December! How can you claim that global warming isn’t real?”
But of course, that would be wrong. It would be foolish. One day’s temperature is a matter of weather, not climate. One odd day, month, season, year or even a series of years tell us little about long-term climate trends. In addition, data from Atlanta or any other single monitoring station don’t tell us anything about trends globally.
As I was perusing the December record-temperature data at weather.com, though, I noticed something unusual.
The oldest record I could find from Atlanta goes back to 1880, giving us a temperature database of at least 129 years. Logically, daily record-high temperatures ought to be distributed fairly equally over that time period. Yet they’re not.
Of the 31 daily record highs in December, 24 have been set in the last 25 years, far more than logic suggests. Let me put that another way: Seven record daily highs for Atlanta were set in the first 104 years of record-keeping; 24 record highs have been set in the last 25 years. (Looking at the other end of the gauge, only 3 of 31 daily December lows have been set in the past quarter century, which is about what you’d expect in a normal distribution.)
Startled, I looked at January records. Nine of the 31 record highs that month have been set in the last 25 years. That’s a lot fewer than in December, but statistically, it’s also two or three times more than should be the case if all else were equal.
Now, even that does not constitute proof of global warming. At most, you can say that it is consistent with climate change — climatologists do warn that warming would be most noticeable in winter months. But even that claim might be stretching things too far.
As climate researchers would tell you, a lot of that apparent warming might be explained by the growing urbanization of Atlanta. The city has become a heat island of concrete and asphalt, which makes it complicated to compare today’s temperature records with those of 100 years ago. So researchers use various “tricks” to correct for that change — they have agreed-upon methods to account for the effect of heat islands, and they adjust the data accordingly.
In other words, it is not a simple matter. And given the complexity of the science, there would certainly be an opportunity for researchers to give the data a slight little finagle here, a tiny bit of exaggeration there, and — voila!! — global warming!
That’s roughly the version of reality that many global-warming skeptics are now asking their supporters to accept. Having largely lost the argument about a scientific consensus on the issue — the consensus is too solid to dismiss any longer — they now argue that the consensus itself is a fraud.
“At worst its junk science and it’s part of a massive international scientific fraud,” as U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., claims. Sensenbrenner is former chairman of both the House Science Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, and is now the ranking Republican member on the House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming.
Of course, the narrative pushed by Sensenbrenner and others would require you to believe that smart people all over the world — most of whom who have wanted to be scientists all their lives and have worked hard to achieve that goal — have somehow gotten together to collude in this giant fraud. Depending on the day and the skeptic/theorist, the researchers were motivated to join that conspiracy by a lust for government research grants — although private industry would pay more for the opposite conclusion — or by some secret desire to promote socialism or even one-world government.
Since the late ’70s, as the story goes, scientists in the United States, Britain, Japan, Canada, France, Korea and many other nations have been perpetrating this silent fraud, and as young scientists emerged from universities they too have been secretly initiated into the priesthood. It’s a story right out of the books of Dan Brown, requiring the skills of a Robert Langdon to unravel.
Either that, or global warming is real.