With a scorching hot Bank Holiday weekend just behind us, it seems hard to imagine we were only recently locked deep in the coldest winter since time began*. Prominent climate change deniers like Nigel Farage were quick to point at the snow and ice to imply that climate change was somehow not real – maybe just some conspiracy to stop the roads from being gritted properly?
Fast forward a few weeks, and we were breaking out the barbecues and cold beers for the hottest early May Day Bank Holiday since records began (in 1978 when the holiday was introduced, so not that long ago, really. But still, it makes a good headline). It is now the turn of the climate activists to ruin our sunbathing and beach time by wiffling about how we are all going to burn to a crisp in the near future if we don’t change our ways.
See what you believe?
Neither approach is valid of course. This tendency to use what’s happening to justify our own world view is something that we all do to some extent; it is part of being human. The psychologists call it confirmation bias. So if you ‘believe’ in climate change you will tend to look at the baking hot days as a sign that it is happening. If you don’t believe it is happening, you will point to all the nippy mornings and the three feet of snow. If you’re not sure, you may genuinely change your mind from day to day, depending on the weather. Our use of this sort of evidence tells us more about what we believe than what is happening.
Argh! Sabre tooth tiger!
Evolution has also made us very immediate beings, us humans. The humans who worried more about the advancing sabre toothed tiger than the long-term forecast for roots and berries tended to contribute more to the gene pool, I guess. A more recent example of our ‘now’ thinking would be the mild weather in October 2013, which resulted in a marked fall in retail sales. Apparently people didn’t go out and buy their new winter coats. Did we ‘believe’ that winter wouldn’t happen that year? Of course not. We were just pretty warm, and as a result we didn’t feel the need to shell out.
So our underlying beliefs and how we are feeling at any moment dictate our response to pretty much everything, including the weather and our retail decisions – often in spite of consistent prior knowledge and evidence. We are the sensory centres of our individual universe, so it’s understandable. But what happens with us isn’t a good indicator of what is happening everywhere. And our ancestral genetic focus on the here-and-now can sometimes hold us back in the post sabre tooth tiger modern world.
The clue is in the title
With global warming the clue is in the title – it’s global, not individual, or country-based. So even whilst we experienced cold winter weather in the U.K., the north pole was experiencing temperatures that were 20 celsius or more above normal. Whilst we had a lovely May Bank holiday, Pakistan had some of the hottest April temperatures ever recorded on planet earth.
But just because I am convinced that climate change is happening, let’s not fall into the trap of pointing at weird weather and drawing conclusions that fit the belief. We need some science here. So the independent, verified scientific observations of (among other organisations) the US Government National Climatic Data Center say this: if you were born after February 1985 you have never experienced a month where global average temperatures were below average.
Our underlying views on the subject, plus how we feel whilst reading this will change how we react of course. So get the barbecue and Hawaiian shirt out. Or crank up the heating, depending.
Til next time.