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On Snow and Rush February 11, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in climate, politics, science.
Tags: , ,

Actually, mostly on Rush. The main point of this entry is the question: “Is it possible that Rush Limbaugh is really as big an idiot as his recent comments about the east-coast blizzard  disproving global climate change make him appear to be?” For the record, I think the answer is no. I hate Rush with the white hot passion of a thousand suns, but I just can’t believe that an organically grown national political figure can be an idiot to such a degree. Note, that’s not to say that a national figure can’t be an idiot. I mean, Sarah P is obviously an idiot. Dan Quayle was Sarah P’s blueprint. King George the 43rd is an idiot. Maybe not a Palin-class idiot, but he’s up there. And it’s quite likely that Clarence Thomas is an idiot. But all of these rose to national prominence relatively quickly before enough anecdotal evidence of their idiocy could accrue and go viral. Still on the same record, I believe that 2004 was the last year someone like George 43 could be elected president. Why? Because YouTube came along in 2005. And someone like George could never withstand the scrutiny and ridicule that goes along with viral video.

Anyways, Rush I hope you are reading this. Without global climate change in general and global warming in particular a 100-year blizzard like the one that is keeping me home today is much less likely to happen. Why? Because snow is not really a function of air temperature. In other words, it is not the case that the colder it is the more it snows. In fact, the opposite is true—the colder it is, the less it snows.  Antarctica is the coldest place on earth (by far). It is also one of the dryest places on earth (by far). The average precipitation in Antarctica is six inches a year. The fact that Antarctic ice is several miles thick is because the cold drastically reduces evaporation and this has allowed the precipitation to accumulate over hundreds of thousands of years. This is the reason why the loss of Antartic ice sheets (like Larsen B) is such an environmental disaster. Even assuming the climate stabilizes at a point that will allows those sheets to regrow, this will take tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years. Same goes for the Greenland ice sheets and mountain glaciers around the world. Whatever we lose of these reservoirs is not coming back anytime soon.

Anyways, snow requires either a high atmospheric moisture content and a zero (Celsius)-crossing downward temperature gradient or sub-zero temperatures and an upward moisture gradient.  The latter set of conditions is what gives “lake effect” snow. Cold low-moisture air passes over a warmer body of water, picks up evaporate and immediately dumps it as snow. If the body of water is a lake then the snow usually hits the land on the lee side. The former set of conditions is what we have here. It isn’t unseasonably cold on the east coast. In fact, it’s unseasonably warm. Last month was the warmest January on record. But it is still below freezing. What it is is unseasonably moist. There is an unusually high moisture content in the atmosphere right now. And the reason for that is that global temperatures are unusually high and there is an unusually high amount of evaporation from the oceans. Get it, Rush?

Actually, I think you do. Unlike Sarah, George, Dan, and Clarence you didn’t burst on the national scene in a matter of months. You have been a national figure for over twenty years. You have a nationally syndicated radio show and a nationally syndicated television show. If you really couldn’t grasp basic scientific concepts, people would have called you on it on a national stage and you would have lost face and stature with your own constituency. The reason this isn’t happening is that you aren’t really an idiot (not in the IQ sense anyways) and that nobody really believes that you are. When you act like this, when you lie like this, the tacit interpretation is that you are doing this for a political end. That you are lying in the way politicians do. That you are grandstanding. The problem is that while your educated followers believe that you are grandstanding, your uneducated followers (and these are probably the majority) simply believe you. They don’t see you only as a political facade, they see you as a scientific authority too. And frankly, that’s scary.

Rush, I don’t begrudge you your political ends. But I begrudge your quasi-political means. And if you aren’t willing to do the world a huge favor by shutting up completely, do us a somewhat smaller favor and stick to talking about politics where your posturing and opinion-making can be somewhat justified. Don’t tread on scientific ground. You may not be a clinical idiot, but you aren’t a scientist either and like too many other politicians in your party you have no respect for science, the same science which has given you the world you live in, your radio show, and your cochlear implants. Quit abusing the first amendment and the definition of the word theory. And quit acting like the idiot you probably aren’t.



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