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Don't Cry "Global Warming" Over Spilled Weather!

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJanuary 7, 2008 8:49 PM


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In my latest "Daily Green" column, I find myself slightly praising John Tierney of the New York Times, who is right for the wrong reasons about something he calls "availability entrepreneurs":

Today's interpreters of the weather are what social scientists call availability entrepreneurs: the activists, journalists and publicity-savvy scientists who selectively monitor the globe looking for newsworthy evidence of a new form of sinfulness, burning fossil fuels.

I agree that there's an unfortunate tendency to opportunistically blame individual weather events on global warming. I've said this many times. But Tierney ignores:

1. When it comes to wildfires, or hurricanes, or droughts, or many other weather related phenomena, there is strong published research suggesting that global warming ought to be changing these events in some way in the aggregate, even if we can't detect such changes in any individual occurrence (for basic statistical reasons). This research makes it more than fair to at least raise the subject of climate change when such events occur -- with the appropriate caveats, of course. 2. Moreover, by now we ought to have a baseline understanding that most aspects of weather will indeed be affected by the addition of huge amounts of additional heat to the Earth's system. It would be stunning, and downright a-physical, if nothing happened to weather as a result of global warming. Tierney with a grain of salt. And then, if you want, read more of me, too.

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