The Electric Commentary

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Weather v. Global Warming

One argument that conservatives often throw at those of us that believe in global warming goes something like this:

How can we tell what the temperature will be in 100 years when we can't even tell what it will be this weekend!?

Back in the day, when I used to paint houses during college, Milwaukee talk radio host Mark Belling would throw this point around willy-nilly. It is, of course, a stupid argument. I was driving around town during Mark's timeslot on Friday, and I heard him use this argument again. I thought that by now (8 years or so) someone would have told him to stop using this argument, but apparently not. And while it's generally a pointless waste of time to argue with anything on talk radio, this is so easy that it's really no trouble at all.

1. When you are predicting what the weather will be like in 5 days, you're predicting a specific. That is difficult to do. It is like predicting a specific car accident will take place in 5 days. You can predict a few general trends (more accidents during large events, construction etc.) but even those will sometimes be off due simply to random chance.

2. When you predict the average temperature 100 years in the future, you're predicting something general. You're taking a big sample size, which tends to absorb any outliers that may affect a specific prediction, and you're talking about a trend, not a specific incident. It is like predicting the number of car crashes in a given state for next year, based on the number of crashes that have occurred in the past. These predictions tend to be accurate. Moreover, if there is a blip in the general trend, we can generally find the cause, as it takes a large and consistently occurring event to alter the results of a large sample size. Like people putting large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, for instance.

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  • A susbstantial part of both Bush presidential campaigns were based on statements like this that make great sense to people who are ignorant of the underlying reality, so unfortunately they apparently work. It's always important to cater to the idiot demographic.

    By Anonymous scott, at 8:27 PM  

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