The Real Problem with Global Warming

No, not the fact that the Earth will soon be reduced to a baked wasteland and we're all going to die--some scientists say we are approaching a "tipping point" within the next ten years, beyond which self-reinforcing effects of global warming become irreversible. See the news story here or the original article here.

No, I mean the problem that it's so hard to take this seriously. Both in the collective sense--our government has so far managed to avoid taking any action proportionate to the level of the threat--and in the individual sense. Come on, now, do you really believe that the end of the world is less than ten years away?

And that's because the global-warming story conflicts with a basic principle of intuitive logic. You can compare the situation to leaning against a stream radiator which gradually heats up to a dangerous level. If you keep touching the radiator, eventually it will seriously burn you. But well before that happens, you will first feel mild discomfort, and then severe discomfort, and then intolerable pain. In fact it would require considerable force of will to seriously injure yourself in this way (as opposed to accidentally leaning against an already-hot radiator, which is easy to do).

But, although everyone talks now about how bizarre the weather is, for most of us it really isn't that bad. Here in Maryland in late July, high temperatures in the low 80's (Fahrenheit) are forecasted for the next several days--hardly oppressive heat. The weather is like a mildly-warm radiator--it's hard to believe that a serious burn is imminent. Unless you're one of the unlucky few who have been flooded out of their homes, your gut feeling is: yeah, it may be a little warm but I can handle it.

Of course, intuitive logic is sometimes dead wrong.

Too bad we can't have just one summer with average temperatures of, say, 110 degrees F across the U.S. Then everyone would believe.

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