May 15, 2015

Fox News Explains Climate Change

The distinction between regional weather forecasting and predicting long-term climate change has rarely been so dutifully mangled as it was recently by Andrea Tantaros of Fox News. 

[OPINION] Tantaros, whose 2001 degree from Lehigh University was in journalism and French, is convinced climate change science doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

“The [climate change] science is off,” Tantaros declared. “Let me point to a very recent example. We just had a snowstorm two weeks ago in New York. They told us New York City was going to get blown out. . . . Guess what? The models were wrong. So they got the science wrong on the models twenty-four hours before. How are those [climate change] models . . . ten, twenty years later . . .?”

In fairness, climate science is complex. Still, because she presents such a compelling figure to her audience, I wish Tantaros would take a moment to understand “better” facts.

Here’s how I like to imagine the difference. Suppose you’re a tiny flea sitting on the water surface in someone’s Jacuzzi, just as they decide to—slowly—pour a bucket of hot water from above to increase the temperature. Since you can see the amount of water in the bucket, you can accurately predict the final height of the waterline. Assuming you can also measure the temperature difference between the Jacuzzi and the bucket’s hot water, you could perfectly predict the final increase in temperature.

That’s climate science.

However, until everything settles down, the temperature will vary greatly between hot and cold in the single spot of the Jacuzzi where you’re floating. That’s because sometimes hot water will flow to displace cold, and sometimes cold water will flow to displace hot. Even less predictable is the height of the waterline from one moment to the next. The waves caused by the motion of the incoming water will bounce off the sides of the Jacuzzi, causing seemingly infinite interference patterns.

As the heat flows and the waves move about, sometimes the water in the Jacuzzi will crest where you are, and sometimes it will drop. Sometimes the water will be hot; sometimes it will be cold.

That’s weather.

Climate science isn’t as simple as the Jacuzzi model, of course. For example, while polar snows reflect the sun’s energy away from the earth the oceans absorb it. But what we do know is that each molecule of carbon dioxide we send into the atmosphere absorbs the heat radiated from our sun-baked Earth and reacts by sending a packet of energy either up into space or right back down to us. And since that energy is in the form of heat, we predict that, on average, things are going to get hotter around here.


I invite you to follow me on twitter @sethwarrenrose.


Seth Warren Rose
Founding Director, Eneref Institute