Sketchy Thinking About Global Warming (Part I)

13 Oct

This is part I of a guest post by Greg Laden.

We know that “global warming denialism” is a political gambit, and it does not need to be excused. But there is a phenomenon that helps engender denialism, giving it apparent credibility as its proponents try continuously to spread it among regular people. This, of course, is the natural variation in climate, including the simple seasonal variation in temperature and precipitation that makes people say, during a winter cold snap “Huh. I thought we were having Global Warming … I guess not,” and to say during a summer heat wave “Man, this global warming is a drag!” and so on.

Diurnal denialism doesn’t happen. People don’t think global warming is not real when night falls and the air cools, and then think it is real again the next day when the sun comes up and the part of the Earth they are on warms. Well, probably. Seasonal denialism is usually not too serious, or at least, it is rarely more serious than casual weather-talk ever is. But the longer term variations in climate may have had, in my opinion, a more significant effect on the public view of climate change, and has even influence some of the science (though not recently).

Here, I’d like to talk about an observation I made while writing for a now defunct monthly rag about global warming back in the early 1990s, and have always wanted to pursue formally, as a research project. Since I’ve not gotten to it yet, I thought it might be fun to outline the idea more informally, to give you, literally, a sketch or two that makes the point.

The bottom line is this: Our ability to see climate change has increased over time due to several different factors: Better instrumentation for observing the climate now (including satellites), proxies for looking at past climate, and simple time … we know much more about the late 20th century now than we did in 1965 because, well, it hadn’t happened yet in 1965!

More coming soon..

Greg Laden is an anthropologist and science communicator who can never decide which is more important: nuance or context.  He writes at and

14 Responses to “Sketchy Thinking About Global Warming (Part I)”

  1. Green News in San Diego October 13, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    I like your article… I’m agree with you “too much denialism”

  2. mark October 13, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

    The deep snow in Pennsylvania the other winter led some folks to declare global warming a hoax–they were oblivious to the fact that simultaneously, people were dying from the heat in Rio de Janeiro. (I also like to ask such people how many degrees of snow we had.)

  3. TorresD30 October 14, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    Dear Mr. Laden,

    The record shows the Earth has been warming for over 10,500 years and continues to do so.

    • anthrosciguy October 14, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

      Not exactly a steady line there, TorresD30. And a huge ramp up recently on that timescale.

    • muoncounter October 14, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

      That ‘warming for 10500 years’ ended some back. A good graph of the last thousand years is here:

      • TorresD30 October 18, 2011 at 9:20 am #

        Your graph is missing about 9000 years

    • kermit October 25, 2011 at 10:24 am #

      TorresD30, this claim is derived from bad science by Don Easterbrook, based on data from the Greenland ice sheet. It reflects only local temperatures, not global.

      “[Easterbrook's] …claim that 9,100 out of the last 10,500 years were warmer than recent peak years is false, based on a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of data.”

      For details and links to the sources see:

  4. mark October 16, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    According to “Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years” (2006), issued by the National Research Council, “It can be said with a high level of confidence that global mean surface temperature was higher during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period during the preceding four centuries.” Additional research since then has raised the confidence of comparisons extending further back in time.

    • TorresD30 October 18, 2011 at 9:22 am #

      Good cherry pick to avoid the Holocene Climate Optimum

  5. arctic kitty October 18, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    Cool story bro. I could hardly keep up with the science.

    You’re just another gullible. Or maybe the ‘omfg crisis-needer’ type. Likely both.

    • vvv October 19, 2011 at 2:52 am #

      Cool reply, kitty. You are just another one in for a big surprise. Or then you just don’t want to act responsibly. Or maybe don’t know how to care for others but yourself. Likely both.

      • kermit October 25, 2011 at 10:38 am #

        ArcticKitty, here are some other omfg crisis-needer groups:

        American Association for the Advancement of Science
        American Chemical Society
        American Geophysical Union
        American Institute of Biological Sciences
        American Meteorological Society
        American Physical Society
        American Society of Agronomy
        American Society of Plant Biologists
        American Statistical Association
        Association of Ecosystem Research Centers
        Botanical Society of America
        Crop Science Society of America
        Ecological Society of America
        Natural Science Collections Alliance
        Organization of Biological Field Stations
        Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
        Society of Systematic Biologists
        Soil Science Society of America
        University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

        Perhaps you could tell us what you know that they do not?

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