To deny climate change in 2019, in the face of overwhelming evidence and the effects of climate change manifesting all around us, requires either a high level of ignorance and scientific illiteracy or sociopathic extremes of dishonesty. Today’s bad chart has both!
It comes from Patrick Moore, policy adviser on climate and energy for the Heartland Institute, the organization known in part for its well-funded opposition to science, such as denying the adverse health effects of tobacco and creating K-12 curriculum aimed at “dissuading teachers from teaching science,” the latter as part of its 2012 Heartland Climate Strategy. Clearly, Heartland and its “scientists” know full well that their positions don’t hold up to scientific scrutiny of any kind—not even from a sixth-grader. Hence, they have to rely on disingenuous propaganda, like the chart Moore recently tweeted, in hopes that Americans are scientifically ignorant enough to buy it.
First off, Moore’s idea of a “realistic” y-axis is one that isn’t labeled, although we can probably assume it represents average global degrees Fahrenheit, not Kelvin or Celsius, because we’re all alive to see the graph in the first place (unless this is a “global temperature on Hoth” chart, made while Moore nestled inside the belly of a Tauntaun, which would explain a lot about where Moore pulled this chart from, actually).
Second, Moore’s idea of “realistic” is to include mean temperatures way outside the habitable range—in other words, ridiculously unrealistic global mean temperatures for the sake of realism. Seems totally legit, right? I mean, if only those ridiculous mall maps had a realistic scale so I could find the Cinnabon:
The effect of disingenuously padding the y-axis as Moore does in his chart is to “zoom out” until the temperature change over the years all but disappears. The use of bars instead of a line only amplifies this effect while bizarrely implying that each temperature is somehow inclusive of all the temperatures below it to 0.
Moore is clearly hoping his audience is ignorant of how little change in global mean temperature is required to cause upheaval in our climate. He’s relying on confusion between temperature ranges at a single location, which can rise and fall widely in a single day, and global mean temperature, the average of all these wildly varying temperatures, which is roughly the same temperature every day with remarkable consistency. Even small increases in the global mean are therefore reflective of huge changes worldwide.
An increase of just a few degrees over the past century has led to glaciers melting; ocean levels rising and acidifying; more frequent and intensified extreme weather events; extended and more frequent heat waves, flooding in some places, and drought in others; the resulting loss of health and lives of animals, including humans, and the list goes on. All of this is happening right now, and it is happening remarkably close to the predictions of climate scientists.
A relatable example is body temperature. A few degrees outside the normal range makes a huge difference in our health. But if we follow Moore’s lead and expand the y-axis numbers way beyond the range of possible human body temperatures, we can minimize the distinctions between fatal temperatures and healthy ones. Can you spot the fever in the chart below? The fatal hyperprexia?
Maybe in the end, that is the point Moore is making: A few degrees change in temperature is no big deal . . . if you’re dead. But I for one do not welcome the Heartland Zombie Apocalypse.