The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘carbon emissions’

Global Warming Deniers Confuse Climate with Weather, AGAIN

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2014

If you live in North America, then no doubt you’re aware of the so-called polar vortex which has come down from the Arctic to freeze the hell out of the continent.  And, just as surely as the temperatures started to drop, global warming deniers began to shout about how this supposedly proves that global warming isn’t real.

Okay, so you see here’s the thing… it’s called *global* warming because the whole globe, on average, is getting warmer.  Saying that a cold snap disproves global warming is like saying that the IRS no longer exists because you got a tax refund once.


See all that red?  Yeah, that’s where the climate is getting warmer.  And notice how there’s more red than blue? [image source]

I’ve blogged about this very topic before, namely that “climate” isn’t the same thing as “weather”, but seeing as how the deniers are once again spouting their nonsense, it bears repeating…

Winter is NOT “Proof” of Global Cooling

… The primary flaw in this argument is good ol’ fashioned cherry-picking of data: the “coolers” are choosing to focus only upon data which supports their claims, while ignoring the vast amount of data which points in exactly the opposite direction. By focusing on just the weather reports over the last couple of weeks, or for only a certain part of the planet, they leave out the fact that climate is a phenomenon which is global in nature and that climate science is concerned with long term trends.  Essentially, they are confusing weather with climate.  Climate experts recently made this point in an Associated Press article which has been widely circulated.

Bottom line: when taking all of the data into account, both concerning the timeline as well as the Earth as a whole, there is a clear warming trend. …

There are some other really good articles about this latest confusion regarding how the polar vortex fits into the broader picture of global warming.  For your reference, I’ll suggest two of them:

1. Can global warming be real if it’s cold in the U.S.? Um… yes!

This article is really good because it goes through some of the basics about global warming and climate change in general, and then it emphasizes the importance of temperature trends and statistical analysis of the data.  My favorite part is as follows:

Global warming isn’t expected to abolish winters in the U.S. anytime soon. Right now, climate experts are worried about a 2°C to 4°C rise in global average temperatures by the end of the century. That would create all sorts of disruptive changes. But those few degrees aren’t enough to completely undo the larger swings in temperature we see each year between summer and winter in many parts of the world.

Indeed, many climate models suggest that we’ll still see record cold snaps in the United States as the planet heats up. They’ll just become much less frequent over time — while record heat waves will become increasingly common. See this paper in Geophysical Research Letters from 2009: Over the past decade, it notes, the U.S. has experienced about two daily record high temperatures for every record low. If the planet keeps heating up, that ratio will shift to 20:1 by mid-century. There will still be record lows in many areas. They’ll just be rarer. …

2. Go home, Arctic, You’re Drunk.

This is a humorous and informative post from my skeptical colleague Greg Laden wherein he lays out just how it’s possible for global warming to actually account for the polar vortex phenomenon:

… The apparent contrast between extreme cold and global warming is actually an illusion. If we look at the local weather in many parts of the US we see a giant blob of cold “Arctic air” moving south to engulf our humble hamlets and cities, as though the Arctic Coldness that we know is sitting on the top of our planet, like a giant frosty hat, is growing in size. How can such a thing happen with global warming?

Actually, if you think about it, how can such a thing happen at all? Imagine a somewhat different scenario. Imagine the giant global hulu-hoop of warmth we know of as the tropics suddenly expanding in size to engulf the United States, Europe, Asia, and in the south, southern South America, southern Africa, Australia, etc. for a week or so, then contract back to where it came from. How could that happen? Where would all the heat necessary for that to happen come from? That seems to be a violation of some basic laws of physics. Now, cold is not a thing — it is the absence of heat — but the same problem emerges when we imagine the giant frosty hat of arctic air simply getting many hundreds of percent larger, enough to engulf the temperate regions of the planet. As easy as it might be to imagine such a thing given the images we see on regional weather maps, it is in fact not possible. The physics simply does not work that way.

What is happening instead is the cold air mass that usually sits up on the Arctic during the northern Winter has moved, drooped, shifted, gone off center, to engulf part of the temperate region. Here in the Twin Cities, it is about 8 below zero F as I write this. If I go north towards the famous locality of International Falls (famous for its cold temperature readings often mentioned on the national news) it will in fact be colder. If I go even farther north, at some point it will start to get warm again, as we leave the giant blob of cold air that has engulfed us. In fact, it is relatively warm up on the North Pole right now. Alaska and Europe are relatively warm as well.

The graphic above from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts shows what is happening. The Polar Vortex, a huge system of swirling air that normally contains the polar cold air has shifted so it is not sitting right on the pole as it usually does. We are not seeing an expansion of cold, an ice age, or an anti-global warming phenomenon. We are seeing the usual cold polar air taking an excursion. …

Of course, I don’t expect any of this to phase the hardcore global warming deniers, because they’re off in a fantasy world of their own.  No doubt that next time winter strikes the northern hemisphere, they’ll be back spouting this nonsense once again; it’s just plain sad and predictable.  I almost feel sorry for them.  I mean, how can you not feel sorry for them when this moron is one of their primary spokesmen?

trump daily show GW

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Winter is NOT “Proof” of Global Cooling

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 13, 2010

One of the most public scientific topics in recent years has been that of human-influenced global warming, also known as anthropogenic global warming (AGW).  As I’ve posted before, for a variety of reasons – ranging from basic ignorance of climate science to the outright promotion of a cynical ideology – some people insist upon claiming that AGW (or even GW in general) is “false”, a “lie”, or a “hoax”.  In fact, some of the more extreme folks are claiming – in spite of all data to the contrary – that the Earth is actually in a period of global cooling.

Their evidence?… the most recent cold snap that has gripped the United States over the last week or two.  No, I’m serious – that is their “evidence”.  I’d be laughing my head off if it weren’t so sad that there are actually people who are seriously making this argument, so in true skeptical teacher fashion, I shall explain exactly where this argument falls apart and why it is inaccurate…

The primary flaw in this argument is good ol’ fashioned cherry-picking of data: the “coolers” are choosing to focus only upon data which supports their claims, while ignoring the vast amount of data which points in exactly the opposite direction. By focusing on just the weather reports over the last couple of weeks, or for only a certain part of the planet, they leave out the fact that climate is a phenomenon which is global in nature and that climate science is concerned with long term trends.  Essentially, they are confusing weather with climate.  Climate experts recently made this point in an Associated Press article which has been widely circulated.

Bottom line: when taking all of the data into account, both concerning the timeline as well as the Earth as a whole, there is a clear warming trend.

Lastly, I should point out that the intellectual vacuity of the “cooler” argument above cuts both ways.  Case in point: where I live in the upper Midwest we have, of course, been gripped by the recent cold snap, but weather (not climate) projections show that starting tomorrow (Wednesday, Jan. 13) through the weekend – at least – there will be an unusual warming trend.  In fact, temperatures will be well above freezing throughout the region, and this is in the middle of January!  ZOMG!!!

Thus, using the “cooler” method of cherry-picking, I could start going on and on about how this “proves” global cooling is false and “proves” that global warming is true.  I could also cherry-pick by stating that very high temperatures in some regions during the summer are “proof” of global warming.  But these would be ludicrous assertions, and I only mention them in jest as a way of making fun of the “coolers” and their pseudoscientific tactics.

So, putting such silliness aside, I suggest that we focus on actual climate science in this discussion, as opposed to using methods such as purposefully confusing weather with climate, cherry-picking, and so on.  In the long run, a rigorous application of the scientific method will allow us to see what’s really going on, and all else will be revealed as hot air. 🙂

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Global Warming Deniers Get a Double-Dose of Pwnage

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 17, 2009

I’ve blogged here before about various claims made & tactics used by climate science deniers (I refuse to call them “skeptics” because they are not guided by evidence, merely ideology), but what I have to share in this post is truly damning stuff.  One of the things which is really interesting is what happens when a group of pseudoscientific ideologues (like global warming deniers) gets caught red-handed playing fast & loose with the facts…

Exhibit A: Statisticians Confirm Reality of Global Warming in Blinded Tests

Recently, one of the claims making the rounds has been that, contrary to the consensus within the climate science community, the Earth is actually entering a period of global cooling – this claim is patently fallacious, and anyone who has a basic understanding of statistics knows it.  But what happened recently, as reported in a widely-circulated AP story, really slams the door shut on this bogus claim: the temperature data for the planet was analyzed by a series of independent statisticians, all of whom found a warming (not a cooling) trend in the data.  And here’s the kicker: these statisticians didn’t know what the data were – in other words, the examination of the Earth’s temperature data was a blinded test!

Have you heard that the world is now cooling instead of warming? You may have seen some news reports on the Internet or heard about it from a provocative new book. Only one problem: It’s not true, according to an analysis of the numbers done by several independent statisticians for The Associated Press.

The case that the Earth might be cooling partly stems from recent weather. Last year was cooler than previous years. It’s been a while since the super-hot years of 1998 and 2005. So is this a longer climate trend or just weather’s normal ups and downs?

In a blind test, the AP gave temperature data to four independent statisticians and asked them to look for trends, without telling them what the numbers represented. The experts found no true temperature declines over time.

“If you look at the data and sort of cherry-pick a micro-trend within a bigger trend, that technique is particularly suspect,” said John Grego, a professor of statistics at the University of South Carolina.

This result puts paid to the oft-repeated claim by GW-deniers that there is a cooling trend in the data.  Of course, the only reason why these pseudoscientists were able to get away with their false claims for so long was because they, as professor Grego said, have been cherry-picking the data and presenting it incomplete & out-of-context in order to give the impression that the Earth is cooling.  But, as we’ve seen, once the experimenter & statistician bias is removed from the analysis, which is the whole purpose of doing blinded tests, a very real and consistent warming trend is revealed.

But it gets even worse for the GW-deniers…

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U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Put Climate Science “On Trial”

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 1, 2009

According to this article from the LA Times, the biggest business lobby in the United States wants to hold a “trial” concerning global warming science…

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, trying to ward off potentially sweeping federal emissions regulations, is pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to hold a rare public hearing on the scientific evidence for man-made climate change.

Chamber officials say it would be “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century” — complete with witnesses, cross-examinations and a judge who would rule, essentially, on whether humans are warming the planet to dangerous effect.

“It would be evolution versus creationism,” said William Kovacs, the chamber’s senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs. “It would be the science of climate change on trial.”

What a joke!!!  It is ironic that Kovacs mentioned evolution & creationism, for reasons you’ll see below.  Folks, this is ludicrous on so many levels…

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Global Warming Denial: Full of Hot Air

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 25, 2009

As I’m going through my day at school earlier this week, I did the usual thing – after lunch I went by my mailbox.  Inside I find an article from a colleague of mine with the following message on a sticky note: “It’s nice to see a newspaper giving time to the conservative viewpoint on global warming.”  Argh.


Full disclosure: I tend to be more liberal than conservative in my personal politics, but to imply that there is such a thing as “conservative” science and “liberal” science does a grave disservice to science in general.  I might add this goes the other way as well – when Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” (AIT) came out a few years ago, I refused to watch it even though many of those on my side of the political isle were encouraging me to do so.

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CFLs and Mercury Militia Hysteria

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 6, 2009

Yesterday I taught my students about the dissipation of energy in electrical circuits. As part of the lesson we calculated how much energy it takes to use a compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL) in comparison to a standard incandescent bulb. CFLs are great: they provide the same amount of visible light for about 1/4 the energy input, they don’t produce much waste heat, and while they are a bit more expensive to buy they last about 10 times longer than incandescents. So replacing old incandescents with CFLs is a great way to save both money & energy, the latter of which helps to combat carbon emissions and global warming.


So, given all of these great benefits of using CFLs, you would think that everyone would be falling all over themselves promoting the technology, right? Sadly, the answer is no, and the following story illustrates why not.

Later in the day I was hanging around in my science office, talking with some of my colleagues. I brought up the subject of my lesson with a couple of them and how I was encouraging the kids to replace old bulbs with CFLs. One of my colleagues, a science teacher, went a little nuts and said she’d never put CFLs in her house. The reason why not: the mercury in CFLs… argh!

While mercury can be a toxic substance (if a lot is inhaled while in it’s vapor form), the levels of mercury found in CFLs is very small. According to the Energy Star program (a joint effort of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy)…

CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing – an average of 4 milligrams. By comparison, older thermometers contain about 500 milligrams of mercury – an amount equal to the mercury in 125 CFLs. Mercury is an essential part of CFLs; it allows the bulb to be an efficient light source. No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact (not broken) or in use.

Most makers of light bulbs have reduced mercury in their fluorescent lighting products. Thanks to technology advances and a commitment from members of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, the average mercury content in CFLs has dropped at least 20 percent in the past year. Some manufacturers have even made further reductions, dropping mercury content to 1.4 – 2.5 milligrams per light bulb.

So, the amount of mercury contained in these CFLs is extremely small, far smaller than what would be needed to harm a human. But if you happen to break one, what do you do? Well, it’s pretty easy to clean up a broken CFL, according to the EPA – it pretty much consists of ventilating the room for about 15 minutes and cleaning up the broken parts.

Why is it that some people, even supposedly well-educated folks with a background in science, get so damned freaked out by mercury? Well, many whackjobs in the environmental movement have been making pseudoscientific hay about mercury for many years – these folks are what I like to call the “Mercury Militia”. They glom onto mercury as the cause of all manner of nastiness, regardless of dosage levels & concentrations, including blaming mercury amalgam fillings for teeth for various health problems and insisting that some vaccines containing minute amounts of mercury cause childhood autism. And none of that nonsense is true!

And then, of course, another reason why some people get roped into the anti-mercury hysteria is because of bogus stories like this one from WorldNet Daily, which scares the hell out of people who might use CFLs in their house. Unfortunately, just because someone forwards a scary sounding “news” article to your email doesn’t mean it has any real validity. For example, has a great analysis & debunking of many claims made by the anti-mercury crowd in that WND article.

But the fear-mongering by some extreme nutjobs is worse than just spreading a lack of critical thinking, because it actually results in more mercury being released into the environment – that’s right, more mercury! According to this fact sheet from Energy Star…

EPA estimates the U.S. is responsible for the release of 104 metric tons of mercury emissions each year. Most of these emissions come from coal-fired electrical power. Mercury released into the air is the main way that mercury gets into water and bio-accumulates in fish. (Eating fish contaminated with mercury is the main way for humans to be exposed.)

Most mercury vapor inside fluorescent light bulbs becomes bound to the inside of the light bulb as it is used. EPA estimates that the rest of the mercury within a CFL – about 14 percent – is released into air or water when it is sent to a landfill, assuming the light bulb is broken. Therefore, if all 290 million CFLs sold in 2007 were sent to a landfill (versus recycled, as a worst case) – they would add 0.16 metric tons, or 0.16 percent, to U.S. mercury emissions caused by humans.

So, long story short, by not using CFLs we are actually pumping more mercury into the environment because using a less-efficient incandescent bulb wastes so much more energy that is mostly generated by coal-fired power plants in the United States. And those coal-fired plants spew way more mercury into the environment than all the CFLs on the planet could ever come close to doing!

Thus, the Mercury Militia and those whom they have frightened into buying their bogus b.s. are actually making the situation worse. It is not only costing people more money to use wasteful incandescents, but it is also contributing to higher mercury emissions!

The irony is so thick you could cut it with a knife.

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