What’s Wrong With Warm Weather

This is just one of dozens of responses to common climate change denial arguments, which can all be found at How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.


Objection:

The Earth has had much warmer climates in the past, what is so special about the current climate? It seems like a generally warmer world will be better.

Answer:

I don’t know if there is a meaningful way to define an "optimum" average temperature for planet Earth. Surely it is better now for all of us than it was 20,000 years ago when so much land was trapped beneath ice sheets. But anywhere between the recent climate and the most extreme one we may be heading for with tropical forests inside the arctic circle, one global mean temperature seems just as good as any other. Maybe it is even better with no ice caps anywhere.

But the critical issue with what is going on today is not where the temperature is or would be and not with what it may end up being. The critical issue is how fast it is moving.

Rapid change is the real danger. Human habits and infrastructure are suited to particular weather patterns and sea levels, as are ecosystems and animal behaviors. The rate at which the global temperature is rising today is very likely unique in the history of our species.

This kind of sudden change is even very rare in geological history, though perhaps not unprecedented. So the planet may have been through similar things before, that sounds reassuring, right? Well, once you look at the impact similar changes had on biodiversity at the time, the existence of some historical precedent or another actually becomes anything but reassuring. Rapid climate change is the prime suspect in most of the mass extinction events, including the Great Dying some 250 million years ago, in which 90% of all life went extinct.

What we know about ecosystems and what geologic history demonstrates is that dramatic climate changes – up or down or sideways – are a tremendous shock to the biosphere and cause mass extinction events. And that, all in all, is not likely to be a good thing.


This is just one of dozens of responses to common climate change denial arguments, which can all be found at How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.


“What’s Wrong With Warm Weather” was first published here, where you can still find the original comment thread. This updated version is also posted on the Grist website, where additional comments can be found, though the author, Coby Beck, does not monitor or respond there.

143 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With Warm Weather

  1. Just think with our new found efficiency and all this extra water from cyclical rains the BOM, Tim Flannery and the CSIRO could not see coming the future of the Murray is looking a little better.

    Its a shame we did not take the opportunity to rid the river of carp though.

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  2. It has become a dogma of the denialist, that a warm world will be better. Whilst this reveals the lack of consistency in their arguments (why discuss whether a warmer world will be better if you deny the world is warming?), of more concern is the stupidy of the argument on two counts.

    Firstly, a warm world will be better for who? Every species on Earth is adapted to the climate as it is, not as some people would like to think it should be. Your average Canadian might think it would be better if it were a few degrees warmer, but most Iraqis would probably like it a little cooler thanks! I imagine most polar bears and penguins probably like the cold too.

    The other idiotic argument put forward is that warmer is better because biodiversity supposedly thrives better in the tropics than the polar regions. And this is just false, and is based on a completely anthropomorphic view of the world rather than a real one. Indeed, the polar oceans are teeming in life and biodiversity, and the role of phytoplankton underpins the whole planetary foodchain. A number of recent studies have shown a marked decrease in phytoplankton as a result of oceanic acidification and heating, and other studies have suggested that biodiversity in the Antartic exceeds that of supposed Edens like the Galapagos. But then, you learn these sorts of things by reading, rather than just being a dogmatic creationist.

    http://www.climate-talks.net/2009-ENVRE130/PDF/Ducklow-Science.pdf

    http://planetearth.nerc.ac.uk/news/story.aspx?id=253

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  3. Steady on, skip. 38 is a bit much even for tomatoes. And remember high temp means high evaporation here. In Adelaide the main growth restriction is water availability / retention.

    Though I must say the tomato plant MrA nursed through the winter is now ginormous and looking to deliver ripe salad veg before Christmas.

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  4. Fresh tomatoes and barbeques…I never did get used to christmas in summer!

    I’m down under for my company’s Xmas function and it is a big outdoor fun-in-the-sun event. Where’s the sleigh ride in the snow?! Mulled wine around a warm fire during the dark evenings? Frosty the snow man?

    Ah, well. I guess you do have those “6 white boomers”….

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  5. Similarly when I lived in the US I couldn’t get used the idea of xmas being cold. I mean, seriously!!?? You want to try being santa at a kids party – dressed up in all the trimmings when it is 40 degrees!

    Xmas is supposed to be beaches and bbqs and seafood. As a kid I new xmas was close when the cicadas used to start getting noisy.

    Oh – and not to be a pedant there Adelady, but tomatoes are fruit.

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  6. My mother in law gave me a device that allows the tomato bush to grow up side down you have to hang it up (apparently it stops the bugs from getting to it). Anyway all the bloody thing is doing is growing up the side of the device.

    I wanted to give it back to her but the only thing she normally gives me is a sharp tongue so i thought cowardice was the better part of valour so i kept the stupid thing.

    Coby,

    I hope you are not being affected by all the floods at the moment?

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  7. Oh by the way i forgot, to Coby and Mandas stop complaining about spending Xmas in another country try spending it in Saudi Arabia. The [locals] dont take too kindly to such things.

    Cheers and Xmas beers to you all.

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  8. And crakar, the main reason for those tomato bags is much the same as for growing strawberries off the ground. It stops contamination by fungi from soil being splashed up onto the stems and leaves. And they’re easy to pick.

    Count your blessings.

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  9. @ian forrester

    1. Influence of CO2 on crop growth

    I state that as a GENERAL RULE, increases in temperature and CO2 levels (and hours of sunshine, water, fertilizer, …) accellerate plant growth.

    You state that SOME CROPS might do worse in SOME circumstances with increased CO2.

    You know, some crops also grow less well if you give them too much water or sunshine or fertilizer. Does that mean sunshine or water or fertilizer are bad for crops, and that the general rule does not apply ? No, it means that the farmer adapts the crop to the circumstance to get maximal yields. IF rice variant X will performs less well, he will take another variant or even another crop. Which will in the end result in higher yields due to better general conditions for farming.

    Basically, you are cherrypicking instead of discussing the issues.
    Every greenhouse farmer knows that increasing C02 levels in the greenhouse will increase crop yields. This can also easily be observed along highways.
    This “theory” is practiced all over the world by people not understanding even the most elementary concepts of biochemistry. So you should be able to grasp it too shouldn’t you ?

    2. Lack of soil

    You pretend that the entire landmass of the northern latitudes has no topsoil.
    You seem to forget that this is also the case for any other latitude.
    Topsoil is rare, everywhere !
    Yet, there are vaste areas in the north that DO have lots of topsoil which is currently frozen in permafrost and thus unusable.
    The single most important reason they are unusable, is because of low temperatures.

    Now, since years, treelines are moving up in the alpine regions, and even faster in northern regions. This happens extremely fast without any human intervention; it would be “easy” from an engineering point of view to make large regions of that new unfrozen land in the north usable for farming (IF temperatures increase enough, which is what you claim !!!), at least compared to what we did here in holland.

    Now I guess a lot of “experts” were against terraforming in Israel too, but hey : let the engineers do the thinking, you will be surprised at the endless possibilities of the human brain ! As Heinlein said : “Always listen to experts. They’ll tell you what can’t be done and why. Then do it”.

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  10. Ian James Patrick Forrester!
    I await your response to Jan.
    Please make sure you are polite.
    Please do not throw any strawmen at all!
    Jan has raised some valid points in my opinion, and I’d like your reasoned reply to them.
    Cheers.
    Michael
    (of Brisbane)

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  11. And sure enough I popped my cherry on Wattsup, tried to post, and was censored within hours.

    So much for honest, open, skeptical inquiry from the denialsphere.

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  12. “I state that as a GENERAL RULE, increases in temperature and CO2 levels (and hours of sunshine, water, fertilizer, …) accellerate plant growth.”

    But without enough sunshine, water, fertilizer and so on to power the production of extra plant, you get no plant growth.

    Unless you know of any graphite trees.

    Do you enjoy chewing on a pencil lead (made of carbon alone), Ian? Is it nutritious?

    PS skip, wuwt don’t want skeptics. they want people skeptical of AGW. No other type of conversation will be allowed.

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  13. No, I won’t sue them.

    I will bask in the glow of the sure and certain knowledge that my limpid prose has deeply touched at least one fortunate soul.

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  14. I tried posting over at wattsupmybutt once. A very interesting expeience, let me tell you!

    They had done the usual trick of linking to a paper and criticising it without having read it (what a surprise!!). I took then to task over it, and actually got a personal response from the great watts himself!

    Of course, he was critical of me for daring to criticise him and his minions for making uninformed comments, and he whine about how he couldn’t read the paper, because it was behind a paywall.

    Funny how people like that make excuses for their own failures. “I didn’t read the evidence before forming an opinion, but it wasn’t my fault! I couldn’t read the evidence.”

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  15. > and he whine about how he couldn’t read the paper, because it was behind a paywall.

    Did this not become apparent until after he’d posted the link? Or does he expect everyone else to pay for looking but not himself?

    Or did he not even TRY to look at the paper before saying what it contained?

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  16. Someone who’s honestly sceptical and honestly unable to access a copy of a paper and has a few hundred people interested in hearing what he has to say could ….
    write a brief post asking if anyone has a full copy of a paper that looks interesting, or knows how to get it.

    Then when people start to speculate on the abstract alone, tell them to allow some time for him to read and absorb the material. Promise the post in a few days unless it turns out to be ‘boring’ – which would be dog-whistle for ‘doesn’t suit our particular purposes’.

    Of course, this entirely overlooks the purpose of the tip jar. (Presuming there is one, I’ve not visited.)

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  17. Here is another installment from “I can’t believe the shit these denialists come up with”.

    The SPPI was one of crakar’s favourite sources if (mis)information, but I think that even he would have struggled with this gem. It appears that increased levels of CO2 are not only good for plants, the also prevent heart attacks. I kid you not!! Check out this quote from the ‘paper’:

    “….two ⁰C of warming would be expected to postpone more than 100,000 deaths per year in the US. For comparison, this is the total of deaths annually from breast cancer, prostate cancer and auto accidents combined….. The nature and extent of these benefits are a major reason to reconsider the attempt to decrease carbon dioxide emission. The mandate of the Clean Air Act is to improve human health. The EPA should not regulate greenhouse gases….”

    http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/images/stories/papers/originals/greenhouse_gases_help.pdf

    Apart from the sheer idiocy of this non-report, which contains no evidence, no references, and just a collection of unsubstantiated assertions, it also acknowledges that GHGs cause warming – but that this is a good thing. Mind you, a quick look elsewhere on the website leads you to this paper, by the bug-eyed fool from England, which claims that GHG do NOT cause warming:

    http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/monckton/greenhouse_warming_what_greenhouse_warming_.html

    It would be nice if these fools could at least be consistent with their denialism, instead of just throwing shit and hoping some of it sticks.

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  18. A video every denier should watch (but they will still be in denial, because they are morons):

    (HT to climatecrocks.com)

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  19. The problem is that it never attempts to link the trends with a scientific argument or authority. The illiterates will note the tone and dismiss it as “alarmism”.

    I saw Wow (I think) attempt this once on one of the threads . . . essentially a statistical argument, if I remember: At what point can we *assume* a link?

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  20. The words for that video are – word for word – a recent editorial from the Washington Post. Someone just put the images and music together and read the editorial.

    The point is (and I know you get it – I am speaking for the illiterate among us), that it is getting more and more impossible to deny the evidence every day. Yes – you cannot attribute a single weather event to climate change, but the statistics are so overwhelming that it takes a special brand of stupid to keep saying that nothing is happening.

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  21. I’ve done the stat thing a couple of times.

    Wrote a little program to prove it too.

    Random number generator called rnd

    for i=1,10
    do
    x=`eval 30 * rnd + i`
    print x
    done

    and look at the values.

    Doesn’t seem to be a trend most of the time. But, you KNOW there’s a trend since it adds monotonically increasing “i”.

    When it comes to “is there a link”, you have to look at the causes. E.g. if SST is the single biggest cause for hurricanes, a higher SST means more hurricane activity. If higher SSTs cause worse hurricanes, then you’ll get more extreme hurricane activity.

    PROVING that link takes time, but you can’t argue the lack of proof is proof the link is wrong, any more than you could use the lack of trend of the above program as proof that i isn’t increasing.

    If enough time has passed to show up the link, then, just like if i went from 1 to 100 and the trend absolutely clear, you can prove or disprove the connection.

    But until then, you have to posit a mechanism where the link doesn’t exist and prove it correct.

    As to “attribute a single weather event”, you can attribute SOME OF THE MAGNITUDE to climate change. If the temperatures were not increased by global warming, there’d be less water vapour and less water to rain out. You can’t prove that the downpour was caused by climate, but then again, you don’t have to. You have to prove that that downpour event was not affected by climate change.

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  22. As an intellectual exercise, can anyone point to a previous 18 month period that has encompassed so many extreme weather events across the globe?

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  23. mandas “… it is getting more and more impossible to deny the evidence every day.”

    I dunno bout that. I can’t believe that last night’s low temperature has anything to do with the ‘fact’ people are telling me that it’s ‘winter’ here.

    I distinctly remember putting on a jumper during a cold summer night … so why should I believe it’s ‘special’ or ‘different’ now.

    See – anyone can do it if they try. (But you do have to leave your common sense and every other positive attribute at the door to get there.)

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  24. Couldn’t think where would be the best place to post this, so this will do.

    I thought I might try and deflect the discussion from the illiterate assertions of a lunatic, and put forward a scientific article (yeah I know – on a science blog!). In a paper released today, researchers from the Universities of Florida and Fairbanks, along with the USDA Forest Service and Parks Fire Service have done an assessment of the impact of a recent unprecendented fire in Alaska’s North Slope, and the potential future implications of changed fire regimes in the Arctic Tundra. It does not make for encouraging reading:

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v475/n7357/full/nature10283.html

    It puts into context some earlier work by some of the same authors on Artic soils, mosses, and the hydrological cycle. That paper is here:

    http://arts.monash.edu.au/ges/staff/jberinger/pubs/mosspaper-jo-c.pdf

    I would encourage everyone to read the papers and think about the implications. For example, this quote from the second paper:

    “….Mosses form a thick, insulating layer that alters the partitioning of incoming radiation between turbulent fluxes (sensible and latent heat), and ground heat flux, a determinant of soil and permafrost temperature regimes (Bonan et al. 1990; Dyrness 1982). Mosses are particularly important in the discontinuous permafrost zone, where the mean annual temperature is near 08C (Nicholas and Hinkel 1996). If mosses and the underlying peat layer are removed by fire or mechanical disturbance, the active layer depth increases because of the increased heat conducted to the permafrost (Nicholas and Hinkel 1996; Mackay 1995; Dyrness et al. 1986). Ultimately, thawing of permafrost may lead to thermokarst (ground surface collapse) and inundation of
    lower-lying areas with water, with potentially large ecological and economic consequences (Nisbit 1989)….”

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  25. For those of us who remember (and were affected by) the extreme floods in Queensland and other parts of Australia last year, you may also recall some spirited discussion here (I’m not sure what thread) regarding the cause and the possible role of climate change.

    For those of you who are interested, here is a recent paper by the University of NSW on the issue:

    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/pip/2012GL052014.shtml

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  26. http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/

    (See the May 21st post on “Skip Evans”)

    If anyone is interested in an update on the Neil Craig saga, here it is. It appears my hectoring has made him batty. (I admit this is a cruel and indulgent sidebar to what should be a serious debate, but tormenting his like is a catharsis for me.)

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  27. Skip,
    I invoke Poe’s Law.
    But if he is this loopy I hope for your sake he doesn’t have your home address.

    Regards,

    Like

  28. That’s good, because I was tempted to pass comment on that bad shirt-and-tie combo in the file photo of Skip Evans.
    I’m sure your sartorial nous is much more accomplished.

    Like

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