Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Whole Systems Thinking and Global Warming Snapshots

     The following snapshots appeared in the December 23, 2015 edition of the Taipei Times:
Snapshot number one: “The nation [Taiwan] had its warmest winter solstice in 67 years yesterday, with the highest temperature rising above 30°C [80°F].”
Snapshot number two: “The statistics also showed that the nation experienced its third-warmest winter solstice in recorded history, only beaten by 31.5°C recorded in 1934 and 30.7°C in 1948.”

     I call these two sentences snapshots, because snapshots represent only an instant of time in a comparatively small spot.  When a snapshot is selected for publication, it’s selected from among possibly thousands of snapshots to illustrate a point that the writer is trying to make.
     In the case of literal snapshots, two photographers can attend the same lecture and take pictures of the speaker and the crowd.  One photographer selects an audience photo showing many empty seats and several disinterested people (the shot was taken during a less interesting part of the speech.)  The other photographer’s photo shows many enthusiastic listeners (during a more interesting part of the speech) packed into an area that has no empty seats. 
     It’s the same speech, the same audience, and the same venue; but the two selected photos give completely opposite impressions of how well attended the speech was and how interested the listeners were. 
     Snapshots of events can be very different from whole histories of the same events.  Let’s look at how the two above-mentioned snapshots of temperatures may be seen in the light of whole systems thinking. 

     In the light of whole systems thinking, these figures tell us that the world as a whole wasn’t especially hot on December 22; the figures apply only to Taiwan: an area only a little larger than Maryland.  It also tells us that it was hotter on that day 67 years ago (1948)—several decades before the alleged “man-made global warming” became an issue (around 1978).  You cannot reasonably infer "global warming" from a single hot day on a tiny portion of the globe.
     The only other time in recorded history that it was hotter on that date than it was this year was in 1934.  In the 37 years that global warming has been a significant issue, Taiwan has never experienced a winter solstice as hot as it was 30 years before the scare began.
     It’s also worth asking, “How do they arrive at the global temperature figures the use?”  Of course they use thermometers, but where are the thermometers located?

     Here’s a map showing the location of temperature measuring stations.  Fully two thirds of the thermometers are located in a fairly narrow band that includes only the middle two thirds of the northern temperate zone.   When more than 80% of the world is underrepresented, how accurate can the system be?
     It gets worse.  Take a look at “MeasuringTemperatures: How Temperatures are Measured,” by Dr. J. Floor Anthoni.   Measuring global temperatures is far from an exact science.

     Bottom line: Statistics, when honestly presented, are useful as a visual means of digesting facts.  They’re not by any means a substitute for facts.  Check the facts.

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