Thursday, September 26, 2013

A record number of weather records fell in 2012

It's 2013 and most of us in North America have a sense that weather extremes have become more common. In Southern Africa and Australia the snow falls more often. Yet whatever inspiration may be found by climate change skeptics in the global warming hiatus noted by the IPCC, unabated pollution makes less sense than ever.

To help us check the facts the US Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) has put up a web page where one can enter a US zip-code and find out how many records have fallen in that area.

For example Beverly Hills 90210 : In 2011, California experienced:

    60 broken rainfall records
    15 broken heat records
    19 broken snowfall records

What about Boulder Colorado 80305? - in 2011, Colorado experienced:

    21 broken rainfall records
    11 broken heat records
    6 broken snowfall records

According to an NRDC news release, "In 2012, there were at least 3,527 monthly weather records for heat, rain and snow broken by extreme weather events" in the US, surpassing 3,251 records broken in 2011.

You can get a graphic sense of this with an interactive 2012 map that even includes forest fires in the US.


Monday, September 09, 2013

Blame global warming for melting a car - is that the last word?

If there was ever an illustration of the human mental interpreter at work, it may be this PR statement:   “The phenomenon is caused by the current elevation of the sun in the sky. It currently lasts for approximately 2 hours per day, with initial modeling suggesting that it will be present for approximately 2-3 weeks.” The spin doctors were responding to the ability of London's concave Walkie-Talkie skyskraper to focus sunbeams and partially melt a car. Our mental 'interpreter,' so named by neurologist Michael Gazzaniga, is explained by psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist:
    The left hemisphere is the equivalent of the sort of person who, when asked for directions, prefers to make something up rather than admit to not knowing. This impression is confirmed by Panksepp: ‘The linguistically proficient left hemisphere… appears predisposed to repress negative emotions, and even chooses to confabulate.’ To some extent perhaps we inevitably confabulate stories about our lives, a process overseen by what Gazzaniga calls the left-hemisphere ‘interpreter’. - The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, Iain McGilchrist, 2009
Among the rationalizations offered by the architect for the architectural faux-pas - in addition to the sun being in the wrong place -  are:
  1. 'the superabundance of consultants and sub-consultants' required by UK regulations
  2. 'sub-consultants that dilute the responsibility of the designers'
  3. 'the fault of the architectural discipline which has cast itself into a completely secondary thing'
  4. 'the calculations said it was only going to be 36 degrees'
  5. 'there was a lack of tools or software that could be used to analyze the problem accurately'
It gets worse (or better, depending). Of a similar debacle in Los Angeles the same architect said "That was a completely different problem," claiming he was following a masterplan that specified arc-shaped towers. "We pointed out that would be an issue too, but who cares if you fry somebody in Las Vegas, right?" The master designer reflected: "They are calling it the 'death ray', because if you go there you might die. It is phenomenal, this thing."

Persistent rationalizations and denial are among the key ingredients of progress traps. Gazzaniga was perhaps too kind when he called the cerebral grey matter that does this, the 'interpreter'.

Oddly enough, we probably all feel a modern, urban compulsion to let the architect and master confabulist have the last word:
"When I first came to London years ago, it wasn't like this...Now you have all these sunny days. So you should blame this thing on global warming too, right?"
Daniel B. O'Leary


McGilchrist, Iain (2009). The Master and His Emissary. Yale University Press