Saturday, January 15, 2011

The hottest year on record

From the New York Times:
New government figures for the global climate show that 2010 was the wettest year in the historical record, and it tied 2005 as the hottest year since record-keeping began in 1880.

The new figures confirm that 2010 will go down as one of the more remarkable years in the annals of climatology. It featured prodigious snowstorms that broke seasonal records in the United States and Europe; a record-shattering summer heat wave that scorched Russia; strong floods that drove people from their homes in places like Pakistan, Australia, California and Tennessee; a severe die-off of coral reefs; and a continuation in the global trend of a warming climate.

Of course, one or two hot years doesn't mean much. And severe weather happens sometimes, no matter what. That's why we need climatologists who study this stuff over the long-term.

It was the 34th year running that global temperatures have been above the 20th-century average; the last below-average year was 1976. The new figures show that 9 of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since the beginning of 2001.

The earth has been warming in fits and starts for decades, and a large majority of climatologists say that is because humans are releasing heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide level has increased about 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution.

OK, that's pretty remarkable. After all, we've known about the greenhouse effect for almost two centuries. That's established science. And when you have a clear mechanism to explain the situation, when climatologists have long predicted global warming, and when their predictions clearly seem to be coming true, it's only rational to worry, don't you think?

Too bad so few of us are rational, huh? In particular, I don't think there's any Republican left in Congress who - publicly, at least - supports the overwhelming scientific consensus of human-caused global warming.

No, of course not. What do those egghead scientists know, anyway? Republican politicians would rather believe their gut - or Rush Limbaugh's gut, rather - than science. (Or else, they know this position is politically advantageous for them, and they care nothing for anything but that.)

Oh, sure, Republicans pretend to have science on their side, too. After all, you can always find a scientist who'll disagree with the majority, especially - but not exclusively - for money. Want to believe in a flat Earth? You can find a "scientist" who'll go along with you.

After all, scientists are just people, too. You can also find deniers among scientists who are outside their own fields of expertise. Sorry, but if you're not a climatologist, you're a layman when it comes to this specific question.

The only smart response is to accept, tentatively (as scientists accept everything), the overwhelming consensus of climatologists when it comes to climate change. Anything else is just believing what you want to believe. Yes, 98% of climatologists could still be wrong. But that's not the smart bet.

Sadly, we Americans just aren't that smart, are we? We tend to be hopelessly ignorant when it comes to science, and we generally just believe what we want to believe. Well, the GOP has developed an entire political party around that concept, and so far, they've been way too successful with it.

And if there's anything that better indicates our close kinship with monkeys - another "controversial" scientific discovery - I don't know what it is.

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