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Epistemology of Global Warming

Jul
18
2006

Yesterday morning at the gym, I overheard to not-so-naturally blondes talking about the weather… “Like, omigod! It’s soooo hot!” said one, to which the other replied, “Oh it must be global warming.”

I wanted to turn around and suggest that maybe the phenomenon which has caused temperatures to rise in the past few weeks in Los Angeles could be called, “summer,” but their exchange got me to thinking. Since starting my own business and opening an un-air-conditioned home-office, average temperatures have climbed twenty degrees in my neighborhood.

These last few days, I have taken to calling my apartment-slash-home-office, “The Furnace.” Even when temperatures abate at night, it seems to remain a toasty ninety-plus degrees. Some genius in 1959 must have figured that climate controls were not necessary in Southern California when our courtyard apartment was built.

It’s obvious to me that opening my own business has caused global warming…because, as Al Gore points out in his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, correlation equals causation.

[/sarcasm]

Before you tell me that I am just being silly—temperatures rise in summertime and so Los Angeles’ latest heat wave is not caused by Global Warming—let me point out that I already know that. But in the context of World History (the 5 billion-year version, not the 5000-year one), my six month data set is about as statistically-significant as the 111-year set of data used to claim that 2006 is the hottest year in recorded history. My data cover 1 ten-bllionth of time compared to One 50-millionth of the earth’s life.

Does climate change exist? Certainly. I won’t deny that—but I will challenge anyone who claims that they know why or how.

What I did learn from Al gore’s movie is that once every few 100,000 years, there is a significant increase in global temperatures. We’re in an upswing which looks a lot like those which came before it.

Using the data from ice cores over the last 600,000 years, we see that as temperatures rise, so does the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. For Al Gore, that’s proof enough that carbon dioxide causes global warming.

Perhaps—but how do we know that it isn’t the other way around? How do we know that there is not an external force which has much longer cycles—such as a cyclical increase in solar storms or something about our position in the Milky Way—which would cause temperatures to rise yet be undetectable to humans since it has been the “normal” since we’ve been able to track such a thing?

This is a big universe, and it’s been around a long time, so whenever someone says that it’s getting awful hot lately, please remind them…it’s Summer!

Share  Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 10:09 AM | Permalink

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