01/07/2014 12:12 EST | Updated 03/09/2014 05:59 EDT

Don't Overgeneralize About Global Warming

I am not an expert on climatology. But I know enough to know that no one climate event is enough to prove or disprove a theory on global warming or climate change.

It therefore made little sense for Calgary city councillor Sean Chu to imply on Twitter that a cold Calgary winter, combined with a Russian ship stuck in arctic ice, calls global warming into question.

"So quiet frm global warming alarmists about the ice stuck ship&yyc weather,it's deafening," Chu Tweeted. "Is it b/c the weather's been so freaking cold?"

Many, including Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, mocked Chu's extrapolation. "Wow," Nenshi Tweeted. "Winter is a talking point?"

It's sort of fair. Chu was being illogical.

Yet, it's interesting to note that those advocating for the environment are guilty of similar fallacies quite often. Why are they not mocked just as much?

When deadly Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines earlier this year, everyone from Prince Charles to John Kerry linked the disastrous storm with anthropogenic climate change and warned dramatically of a future full of more deadly such events if we don't get climate change under control. Wasn't such opportunist extrapolation due similar ridicule if we're being logically consistent? After all, in isolation, Typhoon Haiyan tells us nothing about what's happening with the planet. It's a single event. And even when scientists have looked at long-term weather records, no consensus has been reached about whether the trends are showing stronger and/or more frequent tropical storms. Or even if that's what we'd expect if the planet were warming.

What is the point of all this?

Let me tell you first what the point isn't.

My goal is not to convince you that global warming is or is not real. You've almost certainly already decided what you believe.

The point is that regardless of what you believe, you would do reason a service by resisting the human temptation to take any one or two breathtaking climate happenings -- no matter how dramatically they may be dominating the news -- and using them as proof that whatever you believe is true. You would also do civil discourse a service if you gave others a break when they fall victim to this temptation -- since people who think as you do will commit the same sins.

The Twittersphere has called Sean Chu "ignorant" and a "moron" (and likely worse).

I am tempted to hurl similar epithets at Walden Bello, who wrote a piece for The Nation called "Yes, Typhoon Haiyan Was Caused By Climate Change," in which he declares Haiyan was an urgent message from Mother Nature to the whole world. He writes: "Is it a coincidence, ask some people who are not exactly religious, that both [Typhoon] Pablo and [Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Typhoon] Yolanda[,] arrived at the time of the global climate negotiations?"

But really, the name-calling isn't worth it. Because all Chu and Bello are doing is choosing to view an individual event (or two) as corroboration of larger belief-sets of which they're already convinced. Which we all do at one time or another. It just appears to be a bigger sin if you happen to have a belief-set that isn't part of the mainstream.


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