Extremes, more than averages, are the killers

Paid propagandists blow hot or cold about climate change, depending on the weather of the day. But the fact is that averages rarely kill — it’s the extremes that do that, writes Natural Security columnist Chris Wood.  An excerpt of Wood’s new column:

Servicing communications towers during a winter storm on the Doe Hills in Newfoundland. Photo by Greg Locke © 2013
Photo by Greg Locke © 2013

North America’s recent wintry blast, and one unfortunate crew of ice-detained eco-cruisers in the south polar sea, have stirred the blood of the science deniers. According to well-paid propagandists working for media outlets, small-time municipal councillors, and a certain spotlight-seeking New York City property magnate and game-show host, the occurrence of cold and — OMG! — snow, is sufficient to overlook millions of other data points meticulously collected around the globe over the last 40 years, and conclude, ever hopefully, that this whole climatey, changey, thing is a hoax.

If only it were so.

Sensible observers have already pointed out the many reasons why the leap of illogic such deniers make is, well, illogical. But their reaction is emotionally understandable. A shot of the kind of winter we haven’t experienced often in the last quarter-century certainly feels counter-intuitive when we’re told the planet is accumulating heat.

The trouble is that when scientists and advocates explain that greenhouse gasses are trapping more of the sun’s heat in the atmosphere and raising Earth’s temperature, they are speaking about its average temperature. And the average is a mathematical fiction. None of us actually live there …

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