Commentary

Global Warming Gomorrah in Hell: Welcome to Washington!

OK, so Washington (and a bunch of other East Coast cities) just saw its warmest month in modern history. That would be July 2011, and my greener friends were very happy. “At least now maybe the politicians will listen,” said one of my high-placed friends. D.C.’s weather bloggers insist this is a clear sign of the global warming apocalypse caused by pernicious economic activity.

And so, for the past days, I have been involved in a running discussion with said bloggers. Predictably, I argued that the vast share of Washington’s overheat was caused by our “urban heat island”, and not by dreaded greenhouse gases. I conceded that a small part may have been due to our industrial exhalations.

I was wrong. None of it can be pinned on global warming. Should have tested my hypotheses before opening my yap, something I often accuse my friends of not doing.

A bit on the National Furnace, aka downtown Washington:

Matt Groening should do a comic book about this place, called “Summer in Hell.” Before the invention of air conditioning, anyone who could — including Congress — got out in June and came back in September. Now, thanks to modern technology, we spend the entire summer legislating (or, in the case of this Congress, not legislating) inside air-conditioned marble tombs. Trips outside are horrendous, especially on sunny days when moisture wafts off the torpid Potomac.

Along with air conditioning came ever bigger government, more government employees, more industries serving government employees, more black SUV’s panting in conga lines squeezing from the area’s few superhighways onto streets designed for the horse era, more buildings, more black pavement, and, yes more heat.

The urban surface, especially dark pavement and brick, absorbs tremendous amounts of solar energy, and then dissipates less of it away at night as the uneven surface of masonry, buildings and streets impedes the flow of ventilating winds. DC’s heat island is especially vicious because of the waste heat from all the money changing hands and the excessive rutting that tends to accompany such activity.

This is Gomorrah-on-the-Potomac, a city where the welcoming signs should say, “When in Gomorrah, do as the Gomorrons do.” Indeed, many do come here to be participant-observers in our peculiar anthropology, driving up the temperature even further.

It’s also a city where the rise in local temperature is directly proportional to the national debt.

So, with regard to the local heat, how does global warming shape up compared to what the Gomorrons cause on their own?

Well, there were two “global warmings” in the 20th century. The first began around 1910 and ended around 1945. Carbon dioxide emissions really took off after the Great War, so the current myth in climate discussions is that this warming had little to do with that and more to do with solar changes and the final rebound from the abnormal cold of previous centuries.

The second warming began in 1976-77 and was initiated by a totally unforeseen event known as the Great Pacific Climate Shift, a sudden change that reverberated from the Pacific to the world. That warming peaked with the great El Niño (another Pacific event) of 1997-98, an anomaly so great that it has yet to be eclipsed. One of the many sideshows in the climate biz is whether or not the lack of net warming since then has any real meaning for the future. It might.

So, if human-caused global warming is making Washington even more hellish, there should be some correlation between what happened since 1976 and now. Check it out:

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That’s not a pretty picture for those claiming our recent suffering is because of our economic sins.

Just to shoot a few more plump fish in this very small barrel (an activity I too little of a sportsman to tire of), here’s a plot of annual temperature departures from the long term mean at Washington’s Reagan National Airport versus the global departure.

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“Explained variance” is the amount of Washington’s interannual temperature variation that is related to global changes. Statistically, 2.6% = zero for this sample of 34 years.

What I don’t get is why apocalypse lovers aren’t overjoyed about this. Presuming that some day D.C.’s temperatures will get with the global warming program, things will get — using their favorite phrase — even worse. Yes, the hell created by the culture of Gomorrah-on-the-Potomac will actually become hotter than hell.

Patrick Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of Climate Coup: Global Warming’s Invasion of our Government and our Lives.