Are We Really That Dumb ?


ir-image.jpgMy Recent Post: “Yellowstone, Global Warming, & Chicken Little,” has zoomed to the top of the most read posts on this little ol’ blog. For what ever reason, it’s both gratifying and a bit disconcerting, (it’s now included in the Yellowstone pages.)

There is, however, a distinction that must be made in the discussion of global warming. The distinction is one of scale and scope. Weather and climate are related but very different creatures and, yet, in most discussions are, (very sadly,) used interchangeably.

Weather is the set of conditions in the atmosphere that obtain for a relatively brief period. What happens on a daily, weekly, or monthly, basis is the weather. It refers to: moisture, clouds, wind, pressures, temperatures, etc. But this is not climate.

Climate, on the other hand is the prevailing conditions of persistent weather patterns over a much longer span of time. Usually several years, or decades. Or, for that matter millenia. As such it is a bit less precise, and a bit more generalized.

stormclouds-from-breaktaker.jpgWe can go out of our front door and take a picture of the weather but not the climate.

Global warming is necessarily concerned first with climate, then with weather. The time scale under discussion is of prime importance. And, we all know – I hope – that as climate changes, the weather undergoes specific, but not always predictable changes as well.

A post at the end of last month in Demarcated Landscapes led me to an excellent publication about the strategies for foresters dealing with climate change. The publication is FORESTS, CARBON AND CLIMATE CHANGE, and is available on line in PDF format. The publication is a synthesis of science findings by: The Oregon Forest Resources Institute, Oregon State University College of Forestry, and the Oregon Department of Forestry.

chart.jpgThe document is full of insights and responses. It contains a brilliant chapter entitled “Global Warming: A Skeptic’s View,” by George Taylor, Oregon State Climatologist.

Taylor’s exhaustive discourse is very informative and should be mandatory reading before anyone begins to discuss our current place in the climatic history of the earth – including Al Gore. I recommend it highly, and the rest of the report as well.

On a daily basis I hear people discussing global warming in terms that range from simplistic to moronic. Imagine: ‘the weather in San Francisco will soon be like it is in Los Angeles’ ‘I can’t wait to grow corn in West Yellowstone, Montana,’ ‘will all of Yellowstone be a desert?’ – and on and on.

We can’t be that dumb, – or can we? The concept of global warming has been popularized to the point of simplistic stupidity. And, wonder of wonders, it’s believed in that form. Changing your light bulbs will not save the world. Consuming more raw vegetables will not deter the coming change. Driving electric cars is an economic, and social statement – not an environmental statement.

How do I know this? Because the scientific data we have about past environments and climate, is just that – general information. It’s not about weather. It’s about a whole bunch of specific locations over time.

It’s, consolidated, extrapolated, and generalized. It’s about regions through time and it’s extrapolated from many sources. Deep sea cores, polen cores, ice cores, faunal records, varves, beach levels, dendrochronology, pack rat middens, etc. all provide brief glimpses of the past. Little snippets of weather and environment are combined to provide climate information. This extrapolated paleoclimatology is probably fairly accurate – it does not tell us much about local weather, (except in a few instances,) but it tells us much about climate.

Are we really so dumb that we think we know specifically what to do based on generalized models of the past? We’ll see. The rush is on, and scurrying is taking place. It might be well to remember that our species has endured greater changes in the past and survived, (as have the cockroaches.) I wonder if, in fact, the panicky rush to action is not just a response to a perception of threat against lifestyle as much as a response to an environmental catastrophe?

I certainly don’t have the answers, but I do find the jabber about the situation interesting, informative, and entertaining. And, although I do believe that the past is key to the present – I don’t believe that the past holds all the solutions to, nor even a clear picture of the specific conditions in the future. Some, however, do.

Reading For Entertainment

Global Warming: A Threat to Midwest Parks, Too,
How Will Parks Cope With Climate Change ?
The Problem With Carbon Offsets,
Texas: Climate’s Anti-Canary,
The Rain In China Falls Mainly on the Plains, Thanks to Pollution,
Membership: House Committee On Global Warming,
Split Over Nuclear vs. Renewables Threatens EU Global Warming Pact.

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