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Wed

09

Dec

2009

Global warming is not a straight line
Wednesday, 09 December 2009 06:13
by Margie Burns

Any time the U.S. gets hit with an early blizzard, or a region floods out of season or has unseasonably cold weather, some talk-show host snarks ‘What about global warming?’ The talk-show notion of global warming is increase in warmth every place under the sun--only up, never down—with no fluctuations. Why global warming should be unlike everything else in nature is not explained, but we do not see a daily rise in temperature, every day in every way getting hotter and hotter—hence, global warming must be myth.

It does not work that way. Global warming is not a straight line.

Whatever global warming or climate change entails, it is not a neat line drawn with crayon and a straight-edge. It does not occur uniformly, the same decimal fraction of the same percentage point, every day. Why would it? Our seasons do not change that way: Autumn does not come by one degree cooler each day, or a fraction, and spring does not come with a uniform daily warming.

As math students know, if you were to plot warming spring days or cooling fall days on a graph, and then take the average warming or cooling, the result would be a straight line. Of course: That is the difference between the average and the individual.

In life, we tend not to have so many straight lines.

Take weight change, for example. Not to hammer a point here, but anyone who has gained or lost weight knows that weight gain and weight loss do not occur by a uniform fraction of a pound each day. Weight change, like other processes found in nature–growing, aging, recovering from illness or injury–occurs in a sequence of motions, not in a slick line.

Try rolling a ball downhill, or uphill. A ball rolling on an incline will bounce. Even on the smoothest incline, a ball does not roll downhill on an unvarying line like the side of a cartoon pyramid. To use more examples, even the most smoothly rolled ball takes bounces like the stock market, or spurts like a toddler’s growth. Even a healthy neonate putting on weight daily does not gain exactly the same oz each day. Growth comes in spikes, spurts, or waves–choose your metaphor–until you’ve got your proverbial bouncing baby boy or girl.

Climate change is actually a sequence of climate changes, with spikes or spurts developing in different directions seemingly erratic at times, deadly predictable at other times and places. An analogy might be the way a hurricane can spawn tornados as by-products branching out from the over-all movement of the storm.

The same holds for losses on the ocean shores.

New Orleans was damaged by erosion from years of damming, channeling and refining long before it was hit by Hurricane Katrina (the damage is a plot point in John Grisham’s Pelican Brief). Exactly how much soil was redistributed in Katrina is not yet known—including soil needed under the levees.

Some shore changes are obvious. Many ‘points’ along the Chesapeake Bay, the series of small inlets, have lost their tiny sand beaches. Each little beach on the Northern Neck, while hardly comparable to Padre Island, used to be a place of thrill and pleasure for a three-year-old or a six-year-old digging in the sand on the edge of what seemed like a limitless body of water. [SEE PHOTOGRAPH] That sand, like the oysters that grew in it, is gone now. Again, the process of loss is not a neat straight line of minuses from one year to the next.

The word for garden in ancient Farsi, Hebrew and Arabic, all three, is the old word paradise. Makes sense; you can see how desert cultures would regard the two as the same and would embed them in this lovely way in their languages, in spite of cultural differences. Metaphors can be powerful, especially metaphors in which people think without being conscious of them as metaphors. Whatever global warming is, it is the opposite of paradise.

Journalist Margie Burns writes from Maryland.
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