“It’s so damn hot… milk was a bad choice.”
– Ron Burgundy, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Climate Change or Global warming if you prefer is all around us, in the news, debated over coffee and basically infiltrating our lives. One of the evidences used to illustrate that global warming is really occurring is that over the last 120 years or so, since 1880, the global temperature has been recorded each year and it has been found that 9 of the hottest years recorded have been in the last ten years and 17 of the hottest years have been in the last 20 years. Before we look at that though what does it mean to have a global temperature for a given year? First I should point out the difference between weather and climate, when you lie out in the Sun and get a tan, that’s weather, when you spiral into an Ice Age, that’s climate.
Or to put it another way, weather is something that happens over short times scales in localized areas whereas climate is a more distributed phenomenon that takes both long periods of time and large scale swaths of the countryside, or in this case the entire planet. So to arrive at a global temperature and gauge climate the temperature must be taken at different times and places and averaged out. So once we have this pool of data what can we tell from it? Weather as we all know is incredibly chaotic and it seems almost anything can happen despite the best efforts of our ever untrusty weatherpersons to predict, as anyone who has attempted to plan an outdoor event knows.
So isn’t there a high probability that this cluster of high temperatures recently is just bad luck? Couldn’t it just happen by chance? If Only I could do the math….As luck would have it, I don’t have to a recently published paper in Geophysical Research Letters has crunched the numbers for me. According to Scientists at the GKSS Research Centre of Geesthacht and the University of Bernthe odds of this happening simply by chance is less than 1:1000, and that’s on the optimistic side the odds are probably closer to 1:10,000. The example given is that this is like flipping a coin and getting heads 14 times in a row, I thought this was a boring example so here are some other things that have the same odds : The chance of a horse giving birth to healthy twins, Finding a four leaf clover on the first try, that you will be injured by a toilet this year and in 2004 bookmakers estimated the chance of finding life on Titan at 10,000 to 1.