January 4, 2009 at 6:33AM
by Jim DiPeso
As the white stuff fell relentlessly during Christmas week on a Seattle metro area woefully unprepared for a Chicago-style snow dump, I listened for the conversational line that I knew was inevitable.
It came about a week into the storm, on a public bus bulling its way north through the slush on Aurora Avenue.
"So much for global warming," a woman on the seat next to me told another passenger.
To which I wanted to interject: "Even Ichiro strikes out once in awhile." But I didnt feel like explaining my point to her.
The point being that a random event that is both outside the bounds of what we think of as normal and runs counter to a trend line does not mean that the trend line has come to a screeching halt.
Ichiro Suzuki, the star rightfielder and leadoff batter for the Seattle Mariners, has a U.S. career batting average of .331. He regularly gets more than 200 hits in a season, and holds the major league record for most hits in a season.
He is a gifted athlete who makes pitchers nervous every time he's in the batter's box.
And yet, he still strikes out once in awhile. He will have bad days when he cant find the ball. But no knowledgeable fan would sit in the stands and yell, "So much for Ichiro" if he whiffs a couple of turns at the plate. The short term is not the right scale for assessing his or any other player's record.
Likewise, a heavy snowstorm in a city that usually doesn't see them is something that will happen once in awhile. But no one should decide that a bruising winter blow means that the climate has stopped warming. It's not the right scale for assessing climate change. At a more appropriate, longer scale, the data supporting climate change is firm and becoming more so.
As humans, though, we tend to ignore spatial and time scales outside our everyday experience. The macro is too big to grasp and the micro is too small to notice.
Changing weather, which is in our face and takes place over hours or days, is at a scale that fits with our everyday horse sense of how the world works. When the talk of the town is blowing snow, snapping tire chains, and a run on snow shovels at Home Depot, it's hard to strike up a conversation about global warming without it devolving rapidly into titters.
Scale is one of the keys needed to unlock understanding of climate change, which is technically complex and difficult to communicate. Scientists and journalists working on the climate communications problem ought to think about ways to bring the scale angle into the conversation.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, the snow is melting and the sun is out. So much for winter.