My young and thoughtful correspondent, my darling Linnea, Wayne, and readers,
My correspondent noted that it is hotter in upstate New York than in Tampa. I feel a climate change and global warming essay coming.
Here you have it: Saratoga Springs is hot, hot, hot; hotter than Tampa.
Any one day, of course, has nothing to tell us about climate change.
Here are two data sets for temperatures in Albany, NY, and Tampa, FL, in 2016, which is all I have available. But for 2016 you can enter many cities in the United States and around the world.
These data sets show the high and the low temperatures in each city on each day in 2016. This appears as the thin, vertical black line on each day. The dark gray represents the normal high and low on each day, and the lighter gray shows the record high and the record low for that day.
Looking at these two charts, I’d say that it is not unusual for Albany to have summer temperatures in the 90s just as Tampa does. The climate difference between our two cities is visible from the winter temperatures, which are much colder in Albany.
Today, near mid-summer, the sun is high in the sky and warms the ground throughout the long days.
One factor that might limit the summer high temperatures in Tampa is the presence of the Gulf’s waters. I checked Orlando, which is at about the same latitude as Tampa, but in the peninsula’s center. The temperature there is 95. Upstate New York is typical of mid-continent summer temperatures.
To see evidence of global warming in the Albany and the Tampa charts, consider this: On any chosen day, it might happen that the temperature sets a record high, or that it sets a record low. Might be a record high on a cold day in February or a record low on a hot day in July. Record highs or lows might only be set on a few days in a year. If the climate in a city were stable, you’d expect to have about as many record highs as record lows during the year. Perhaps, say, 5 record highs and 4 record lows one year, 6 record highs and 6 record lows the next. Suppose that the climate were warming. Then you might see, say, 8 record highs and 3 record lows in a year with that excess repeated year after year.
Looking at Albany for 2016, I see 5 record highs (two of which are in January and in February), and 2 record lows. In Tampa that year, I see 16 record highs and 0 record lows! December 2016 was memorably high in locals’ memories.
Climate researchers would look at data like this for many years, since not only would they not consider any one day’s temperature relevant to climate, they wouldn’t consider any one year as sufficient.
These charts are also what the researchers call point data sets, so they would look at data from many cities, and not limit themselves to US cities, nearly all of which are in a temperate climate zone. They are interested in global climate change. That’s why they work so hard to get a single global average surface temperature value.
There are many interesting point data sets, from records of the date of peak cherry blossom blooms in Kyoto, Japan, which go back a thousand years, and have shifted about 10 days earlier in the past 50 or 75 years, or the date of the ice break up in some Canadian rivers, where some locals amuse themselves by betting on during the winter giving us records going back 150 years. Or the times of first and last frosts, which show up in the Agriculture Department climate zone maps, the time when birds return from southern holidays or leave for the holidays, when insects emerge from the ground, and many others.
The collection of point data sets overwhelming shows that the climate has been warming since the late 19th century and the warming is accelerating. No one of these data sets proves that the climate is warming by itself, as the worlds’ researchers freely admit. Taken together, however, the evidence is powerful.
In the justly famous science fiction movie from the 1950s The Day the Earth Stood Still an alien spacecraft arrives on the Mall in Washington, DC, bearing a message to Earth from the galaxies’ civilizations: Now that you have nuclear weapons, it is too dangerous to allow you to learn to travel in space since your history of violence among yourselves shows that you would be a danger to all others. Get your act together, or we (the aliens) will put a stop to you! The alien and his humanoid sidekick deliver this message to the entire world simultaneously, each nation understanding it in its native tongue. Well, the movie ends at that point, leaving viewers without knowing if humanity can get itself to work together against an outside power.
Here’s Gort emerging from the spacecraft. I can tell you, without ruining the movie for you, that the Sherman tank will not prove useful to those soldiers. The other photo shows Klaatu telling the world to get their act together or else. If you watch the movie, you will learn what is now that movie’s most famous line Klaatu barada nikto, well known to movie aficionado’s and Trivial Pursuit fans.
The point of the movie, and many other science fiction stories and movies, is that if humans were faced with a global crisis, we’d set aside our squabbles to save humanity and the world.
In the case of the global warming that we humans are producing, the world faces precisely this kind of universal threat. The world’s nations, rich and poor, large and small, have joined together in a series of agreements to deal with this problem. The world’s nations, that is, except for the United States, now a rogue state. When I say “the world’s nations,” I am speaking literally, more than 195 of them, except for the United States. Donald Trump has announced his intention to leave this deal and has begun unraveling the steps that President Obama had put in place to meet the obligations to the world’s people that it had voluntarily committed itself.