Saturday, February 22, 2014

Let’s Get the Climate Change Terminology Right

A recent letter in the local newspaper included a remark which is practically an article of faith for climate change deniers. I believe it is also a problem for many believers.
The writer stated that because “weather forecasters today can’t predict the weather accurately for the next two weeks,” computer models attempting to follow climate change are also inaccurate.
Such models may well be inaccurate, but not because of any connection between the two disciplines; meteorology and climatology are completely unrelated studies. According to Wikipedia, meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere, while climatology is the study of weather conditions averaged over a period of time.
Meteorologists work with the degrees and interactions of variables that exist in the atmosphere – such things as temperature, air pressure, water vapor, etc. Their range of inquiry is restricted to the short term: days or weeks.
Their tools consist of sensors of all kinds: anemometers, thermometers, barometers and hygrometers, as well as visual examination of cloud covers, sunsets, etc.
Major breakthroughs came in the twentieth century with the real-time monitoring of the upper atmosphere through the use of weather balloons and weather satellites. For the first time ocean currents and their effect on the weather could be continuously monitored through the use of permanent sensors mounted on the ocean floor. High speed communications also made possible the creation of current weather maps and the exchange of other pertinent data.
Climatologists seek to reconstruct past climates by examining data locked in ice cores and tree rings. These same records are used to help determine hurricane frequency over millennia. The study of contemporary climates incorporates meteorological data accumulated over many years, such as records of rainfall, temperature and atmospheric composition. These studies are used to develop algorithms to determine the future climate change.
Think of it this way: Climate is similar to one’s personality; weather compares to one’s mood. A person with a wonderful personality is bound to wake up occasionally in a bad mood.
Nelson Mandela said “I am fundamentally an optimist . . . [but there] were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested.” And sour personalities have their good days - think Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas day.
Presently the world’s climate (personality) is going through an unusual period (mood) - a rather prolonged one because of the time scale involved.
At last count about 5% of the experts who devote their lives to the study of climate are unconvinced that human activity is a large factor in climate change. If one wishes to follow the lead of that group, or any other self-proclaimed “expert,” that’s fine – the seriousness of the problem cries out for dialog, not for name-calling. Getting the terminology right will avoid discussion of irrelevancies such as the TV weatherman’s inaccuracy rate.

My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.