Thursday, May 12, 2016

Bill Nye And I Had A Disagreement

I'm glad Bill Nye is an advocate against climate change
but not all weather events are caused by global warming.  
I like Bill Nye.

I also like the fact that he's sounding alarm bells on climate change. It is something to worry about, as  rising seas and increasingly erratic weather threaten the well being of so many people now, and especially in the future.

However, sounding the wrong alarm bells can backfire, as it did yesterday.

Nye posted an image of a television screen with CBS This Morning that showed an image of a tornado marauding through a Kentucky town on Tuesday.

Nye's accompanying Tweet read, "More severe weather. More suffering. More expense. Let's all take climate change seriously."

The implication was that Monday and Tuesday's United States tornado outbreak was at least influenced by global warming.

Perhaps a little, who knows? But I Tweeted back at Nye and said (with abbreviations cleaned up here)

"I agree with your stance on global warming, but tornado outbreaks like this one, though tragic, are normal this time of year."

Which is true.  Outbreaks like the one this week happen almost every year, regrettably. This one killed at least two people and destroyed lots of homes and businesses. Definitely not a good thing.

But attributing a tornado outbreak, the kind that have always happened, to climate change is incredibly dicey, to put it mildly.

The reasons I objected to Nye is that his Tweet seemed factually incorrect and gave ammunition to the people who try to deny climate change.

Climate change activists are irrational alarmists goes the party line.

And sure enough, The Federalist, a conservative publication, weighed in with an article about Nye's Tweet.

The Federalist in an article titled "Bill Nye Is a Huckster" said snarkily:

"If people trusted global warming alarmists, they might function under the premise that severe weather events are something unique to this particular age. It was only the discovery of fossil fuels that forced man to wrestle with the terrifying hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and rain showers. Before the Fall of Man, it was San Diego for everyone all the time."

The thing is, certain weather events are getting more common as the planet warms. Other things aren't really changing, as far as we know. There doesn't seem to be any particular trend in the number of tornadoes.

But deadly heat waves, droughts, and extreme storms have increased in some regions, and that could e a sign of climate change.

No single weather event can conclusively be tied to climate change. But unlike the tornadoes this week, some disasters are consistent with what scientists say are the fingerprints of climate change.

Take Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, which was overrun by an extreme wildfire this month.

True, wildfires have consumed towns and cities before. On the same day as the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, a wildfire roared parts of Wisconsin and Michigan That Peshtigo Fire of 1871 killed an estimated 2,000 people.

That's a lot worse than Fort McMurray, isn't it?

However, a wildfire as extreme as the one in Fort McMurray, that early in the spring that far north in Canada, might be a symptom of climate change. A lot of factors came together to create that disaster, but climate change could well have been one of them.

Nye might have done better to cite Fort McMurray instead of a tornado in Kentucky.  Climate change denialists will always attack climate change activists for their "alarmism" So we need to be careful to be alarmed only by things that are really alarming.

Rationality is on the side of people advocating for confronting climate change and trying to do something about it. It's a lot better than bringing a snowball onto the U.S. Senate floor in the dead of winter to "prove" climate change doesn't exist.

I don't mean to dwell on a single Tweet by Bill Nye or attack him. I'm just using his Tweet to make a point.

Here's my thing: We shouldn't panic over climate change. We're not all going to die in three hours because the world has gotten so hot.

But we should rationally, and as quickly as possible, deal with it. Find alternatives to fossil fuel. Understand better how the world's climate and environment will change with a warming world so that we can deal with it.

Doing so will help us economically, competitively and morally. The following is a cliche, but still: Why should we hand over a world to our grandchildren that's worse than the one we have now?

We really don't need any more Fort McMurrays.

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