Of Coin Flips and 'Climate Change'
Heads I win, tails you lose. That might as well be the motto of the left these days, and not least of its Green flank.
For instance, it has become a commonplace that whenever anyone anywhere jokes during winter that global warming sounds nice right about now, for leftist condemnation to come in hot and heavy. As Eric Felton reminds us, when Donald Trump tossed off a one-liner to that effect during a speech on a frigid day in 2019, he was bitterly mocked by environmentalists. Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale's project on climate change communication (yes, such a thing does exist) said that the then-president's comment was "scientifically ridiculous and demonstrably false," adding,
There is a fundamental difference in scale between what weather is and what climate is. What's going on in one small corner of the world at a given moment does not reflect what's going on with the planet.
Good to know. But its hard not to notice that whenever it suits their purposes Greens will unreflectively sling bowls of hot, steamy, anecdata with the best of them. Have you noticed that you hear more about hurricanes during hurricane season these days? Climate change! Still wearing shortsleeves on Halloween? Climate change! Catch the news about that big tornado down south? Climate change!
As noted college drop-out and rich guy Derek Jeter said at Davos a few years ago, "[W]e’re seeing more and more natural disasters each year... Something has to be causing it.” Something other than the 24 hour news cycle and the rise of social media, I think he means.
Felton has a helpful evaluation of this summer's hottest example of this observation bias, the heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest which saw temperatures consistently exceeding 100ºF. In a piece for RealClear Investigations, he discusses an organization called World Weather Attribution, "a group organized not just to attribute extreme weather events to climate change, but to do so quickly." While the heatwave was still ongoing, WWA put out a statement claiming that they'd analyzed the data and that the extreme weather would have been “virtually impossible without human-caused climate change.”
Considering their mission statement, it's hard to label this conclusion a shocker. But their claim of scientific objectivity gave cover to virtually every mainstream media outlet to confidently report that the heat was attributable to climate change. So saith the science!
Or saidth -- until a climatologist named Cliff Mass took the time to actually look through the data himself and came to an entirely different conclusion. Mass happens to be an expert in the weather of the Pacific Northwest -- he has actually written a book entitled 'The Weather of the Pacific Northwest' -- and his own weather models accurately predicted the heatwave.
According to Felton, Mass's modeling suggested that "global warming might have been responsible for two degrees of the near 40-degree anomaly. With or without climate change, Mass wrote, the region 'still would have experienced the most severe heat wave of the past century'." In short, the true culprit was the environmentalist movement's least favorite -- “natural variability.”
Mass made it a point to call out the shoddiness of World Weather Attribution's analysis, and they responded to his critique, saying that his report was "misleading and incorrect." But Felton notes that, after the release of Mass's study, WWA's statements on the topic were much more cautious and equivocating.
Let us all be inspired by their belated humility. Caution is king, at least where climate science is concerned. Better to be cautious than embarrassed when someone comes along and checks your work.