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Behind the Lines: The data on climate and campaigns

Published November 5, 2012 8:05 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Lambson: I am convinced that there is climate change as a result of the activities of our species. The questions are how serious it is and what to do about it.

Bagley: As a sop to my critics I will acknowledge that one super-massive hurricane does not prove global warming. However, I am getting Halloween tomatoes from my garden, which seems a bit unusual In my experience. I'm all in favor of sun-ripened tomatoes in the Salt Lake Valley until Thanksgiving, but not if that also means catastrophic mega storms or summer heat waves scorching farmer's crops. In other words, the situation seems pretty serious to me.

Lambson: Of course one storm does not a trend make. I am no geologist, but my understanding is that climate change is about small increases in the overall temperatures on the planet. That the average temperature has been rising since the dawn of the industrial revolution seems indisputable. However, so have government welfare programs, labor laws and hemlines, and no one believes that they are responsible for hurricanes. Proper inference from statistics is tricky business in the best of circumstances; it is even more difficult when politicians get involved.

Bagley: Just because NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and FEMA weren't around in the Thomas Jefferson administration, one can argue they are exercising the proper role of government in protecting the lives and property of Americans and should be kept around. Even dim-witted politicians can infer from the data and dead bodies that knowing the path of a hurricane ahead of time is in the national interest.

But back to extreme weather events. Because I am a nerd, climate science has been an interest of mine long before it was politicized. All I can say is, the general projections made decades ago have been accurate. We are getting warmer and the seas are rising. Having read Gerald Diamond's "Collapse", which examines the track record of human culture when confronted with environmental crises, I am pessimistic that we will handle our current crisis intelligently.

Lambson: Not handling the crisis can mean either hysterical overreaction or complacent negligence. I am not sure we know enough to formulate the right policies. Do we really want to tell poverty-stricken countries to slow their economic development on the basis of our current knowledge? On the other hand, if we wait until we understand the situation will it be too late to act? I submit that we just don't know.

Bagley: It may already be too late to put the brakes on. We're certainly due to find out. In the meantime, there are other statistics and data points which are being hotly debated; the presidential polls. Democrats and Republicans each seem to have their own math that suggest wildly different outcomes. We're writing this on Friday, but since it won't be posted until Monday, I'll hazard a guess on "tomorrow's" election based on nothing more than my TGIF gut feeling. I think Obama wins the popular vote 51.7% and tallies 318 electoral votes.

Lambson: I expect the popular vote to be at least that close and perhaps even slightly in Romney's favor. I expect the electoral college to be closer, but I think Obama will win. Happy election returns viewing!






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