Monday, June 20, 2011

Global Warming Did Not Cause That Tornado

I am not a global warming denier, although at times it can seem as if I am. I often refute claims made by global warming enthusiasts, for the mere fact that they are false. If you’ve followed my blog, by now you probably know that I value reality over bullshit, even in cases where it hurts — and I’m sorry my fellow liberals, but we tend to spout a lot of bullshit about global warming.

Any given week, tune into one of my favorite TV shows, Real Time With Bill Maher, and you may well see a celebrity like Tim Robbins or Janeane Garafolo or Ellen Page (or, most annoyingly, Maher himself) declaring that the latest monster tornado or hurricane was “caused by global warming.” It is presented not as opinion but as fact, citing the argument that because a warmer climate puts more water in the atmosphere, weather patterns are getting more extreme; therefore, all extreme events are the result of global warming.

Wrong! False! Complete, total, and utter bullshit!

Part of the argument is correct: Warmer air results in more evaporation and transpiration by plants, increasing the water-vapor content of the atmosphere. Water vapor and heat contribute to weather events like tornadoes and hurricanes. But that is where the facts end. To take the argument further and declare that climate change is therefore “the cause” of any individual event is, dare I say it, taking a leap of faith. The claim of direct causality is an unfalsifiable hypothesis, nearly as ridiculous as attributing a tornado to God’s wrath over gay marriage (with the obvious difference that there is evidence for global warming). A better analogy would be losing several thousand dollars on a one-day stock trade, and then blaming the loss on the fact that the Dow Jones Industrial Index had been generally declining for the past year.

Here’s what can be truthfully said in these situations: Global warming is associated with a statistical increase in the gross number of (arbitrarily “extreme”) weather events, which are influenced by heat and water vapor. Similarly, a declining Dow is associated with a statistical increase in the number of declines of individual stocks over the period in which the Dow declines. That is the extent to which we can ascribe causality in these cases. To go further and attempt to single out “the cause” is a reductionist oversimplification — and if there’s one thing human brains like to do, it’s reducing and oversimplifying complex issues to the point that they’re so easy to understand, it’s downright stupid.

When someone is advancing their progressive policy agenda, it seems effective to declare, “The tornado was caused by global warming!” It is not particularly effective to say what’s actually true: “Although the atmosphere is a complex system and we cannot attribute causality of a single event to any one factor, global warming increased the likelihood of that particular tornado in the broadest statistical sense.” But the problem is, oversimplified bullshit begets even more oversimplified bullshit. A false reductionist argument makes it all the easier for the opposing side to say, “It’s cold today! Where’s your global warming now?” Or, more subtly, “If there’s more water in the atmosphere, then why is Texas experiencing a drought? Checkmate!” In other words, no debate will get closer to the truth if one or both sides are citing falsehoods and fallacies. Just because one side thinks/knows that they are right, that doesn’t give them license to leave logic and basic truths at the door when arguing their position.

Of course, this extends to other controversies besides the effects of global warming. For example, there’s the debate over whether the Stimulus Program “saved” the U.S. economy. Liberals: “It kept us out of a second Great Depression!” Conservatives: “It was a waste of money and didn’t create the jobs it was supposed to!” Hey, guess what? Both of these positions are completely unfalsifiable. They are made-up opinions, not arguments supportable by clear evidence, and certainly not facts. Without an alternate universe that we can observe as an experimental control, it’s anyone’s guess how an alternate scenario would have actually played out. It’s like in sports, when the TV announcer says, “If the double play hadn’t cleared the bases, three would have scored on that home run, and this team would be ahead right now.” Really? And you know this how?

Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible. But not one bit simpler.” Remember, people are idiots, and idiots like to simplify the world and make it easier to grasp. Then, when they think they’ve grasped it, they start spouting reductionist bullshit — and in doing so, their idiocy becomes all the more apparent.

Don’t be an idiot.


  1. Global warming made that tornado statistically more likely to occur.

  2. Talented Article ---- Thumbs up


  4. I agree with you, however you distract attention away from what really is important - we need to take better care of the Earth. As you correctly point out, global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather events. Of course you cannot say that this tornado or that hurricane or that pacific island being flooded (oh wait) is caused directly by climate change, but why waste your obvious talent and enthusiasm for the "truth" on calling those who claim such facts idiots? Why not instead focus on the real idiots who represent the 0.01 percent of climate scientists who say global warming isn't happening, and get 50 percent of the media coverage?

  5. I am troubled by the use of your word "denier". I thought that scientific theories could only be supported by evidence or falsified; denial of something completely erases any uncertainty that is associated with ANY theory. At least my environmental science textbook never used words like "denier" and actually admitted that any scientific theory is never 100% certain. Beliefs may be denied or deemed absolutely true, not scientific findings and criticisms.