Saturday, February 2, 2013

Climate (or is it weather) Consensus

Years ago, whenever Groundhog Day rolled around, the official word for predicting the arrival of spring came from Pennsylvania, the town of Punxsutawney. That was the place made famous in the 1993 classic movie starring Bill Murray.

First of all, its difficult to believe that it (the movie) was 20 years ago, and second, (if I'm not mistaken, and I could be) it was shortly after that movie that prognosticating groundhogs started popping up all over the place like, well, groundhogs.

Wikipedia has a list of some 15 big rodent celebrations, including the largest and original one from Punxsutawney, and many much smaller ones. I guess people saw it as a way to cash in on once-a-year notoriety, and bring in tourists during the dead of winter.

So, I was amused today when my local all-news-radio station announced that a "consensus of groundhogs" agreed on a prediction, 2-to-1 in favour. I'm not certain if it was to be an early spring or six more weeks of winter, but to me that is six-of-one or half-a-dozen of the other, no difference.

Groundhog Day defenders claim that the furry creatures have uncanny accuracy, 75% accurate 90% of the time, which I think means being right about two-thirds of the time, not bad. However a Canadian study (who would pay for that?) claims only 37% accuracy in about 40 cities.

When I heard the news report of a consensus of groundhogs, I thought immediately about the UN and IPCC claims of catastrophic global warming (a measure of my deep respect for this claim). Now, I'm not really equating the IPCC scientists with groundhogs (as much as I'd like to), but their consensus opinion in some ways resembles any consensus opinion, even a groundhog's. 

If the premise on which the opinion is based is faulty, it doesn't really matter how many are in the group that makes up the consensus. They could all be wrong. The problem with catastrophic global warming is, that trying to reverse it by eliminating CO2 as a waste gas, by severely cutting back on fossil fuel use, seriously impacts those of us that live in places that are too cold and or too hot. That includes a lot of people. Then, saying that climate impacts will be felt in 50 years or so, well, that just means I won't see it, and those young enough now to appreciate the dilemma (if there is one) will be seniors by then. 

So, even if we humans are somehow unknowingly tinkering with the climate to some degree, is it worth the pain of slowing the warming? We did not start the warming, the ice age glaciers began melting while our ancestors were using spears to kill mammoths. The warming has continued and is ongoing, and possibly we are hastening the event, but like groundhogs we really don't know whats going on. What I'd like to know is this, do the groundhogs predict weather or climate?        

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