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Global Warming and Statistics: My Summer In A Nut-Shell

Posted: 3:34PM July 25th, 2012 | Comments

Statistics 301: An Introduction to Spatial Analytical Statistics, tought by Professor Kam Wah Tsui at the University of Wisconsin Madison was how I spent the first 4 weeks of my summer. My life was consumed. It wasn't long before I began viewing the world around me in a different light, a light with more numbers and less sleep. 

Balancing statistics and work required a formula which I couldn't understand. However, the logic and applicability of statistics was apparent, even to a dislexic mathematician like myself.  Through the language barrier that is mathimatical jargon, Professor Tsui's insistance that statistics is naturally an intuitive discipline continued to ring true.

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman used this same logic, this same intuitive approach to prove, statistically speaking, that global climate change is responsible for these hot, dry summers we've been having. It is in fact, not a coincidence. 

Based off of NASA scientist James Hansen's idea of 'climate dice', Krugman connects increased temperatures to probability. Climate dice represent the chance that one of your six sides will yield a summer hotter than 50 Shades of Grey.  Years of global climate change, pollution and worsened atmospheric conditions have essentially 'loaded the dice', meaning the chances of rolling one of these hot seasons are becoming more likely annually. 

Anthony Kosner in a recent Forbes op-ed argues that global climate change, like any complex quantitative analysis problem, is difficult/impossible to be explained/retained by the American public. 

A big problem with global climate change is that the proof is hidden in all that pudding. Seasons come and go with varying results. Everyone loves to crack the ol 'global warming my' during long Wisconsin winters. This climate die however, intuitively makes sense. Its logical and undeniable. And scary. 

Comparing seasonal temperature data from the 50's, 60's and 70's to the previous 6 years reveal how today's climate die have become alarmingly loaded. NASA'S Hansen seeks out the proof from this hot pudding (visualize it) through standard deviation:

"An important change is the emergence of a category of summertime extremely hot outliers, more than three standard deviations (σ) warmer than climatology.  This hot extreme, which covered much less than 1% of Earth’s surface in the period of climatology, now typically covers about 10% of the land area. We conclude that extreme heat waves, such as that in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010, were “caused” by global warming, because their likelihood was negligible prior to the recent rapid global warming."

 

Between statistics and droughts, I have had just about enough of analyzing and experiencing global climate change. Climate dice provide a metaphor for significant statistical deviations over decades of climatology. If we keep loading these dice, we may all die.

Lets not gamble on our future. 

 

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