If you read the recent media headlines that Canada’s temperature is warming more than twice as fast as the average, you would probably believe it, as I did at first, and fear that Canada is facing a unique climate emergency.
But the same “warming twice as fast as average” headline recently appeared for numerous other countries: Australia, Finland, China, Sweden, Russia, Britain, all of Europe, Singapore and Japan. How can all these countries be warming twice as fast as the average?
Surprisingly, these media stories are neither a joke nor a mistake. They are a trivial fact, turned into a frightening story by deceptively vague language.
Acknowledgement: I thank Dr. Ross McKitrick of Guelph University for bringing to my attention the explanation for the “twice the average” media stories.
The Canadian Climate Change Story
The CBC Headline: Canada warming at twice the global rate, leaked report finds (April 4, 2019)
“Canada is, on average, experiencing warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, with Northern Canada heating up at almost three times the global average, according to a new government report.
The study …. was commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada…. .”
Similar headlines appeared in numerous other media stories about Canada.
In the competition for clicks and subscribers, journalists have an economic incentive to sensationalize boring government reports. With these stories, they have done a good job at making the trivial seem sensational.
The Finland Climate Change Story
Finland is warming faster than the rest of the world
“Finland is warming fast—faster than scientists ever predicted and at nearly twice the rate of any other country on Earth …. .”
The Other Climate Change “Twice as Fast” Stories
You can use any of the links below to see the numerous other similar stories.
How is All This Possible?
Everybody, it seems, is warming twice as fast as the average.
Is all this just fake news? No, it is all true. How is that possible?
It’s only possible because of the deceptive use of the word “average.” The average referred to is the average temperature of the entire planet. The story is not that any country is warming twice as fast as the average of every other country. Rather, it is that the country in the story is warming faster than the average temperature of the entire planet. But the entire planet is not just the land countries are on, it is the land and the oceans. And, as we all learned in school, the Earth’s surface is only 30% land and 70% ocean.
According to NASA, (the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) from 1881 to the present the ocean surface has warmed about 0.6 C but the land surface has warmed about 1.8 C. The large ocean surface warms much more slowly than the smaller land surface.
Using the 30/70 distribution of the Earth surface, that implies combined warming of 0.3 x 1.8 + 0.7 x 0.6 = 1.0 C.
Thus, if every country warmed at exactly the same rate, every country would be warming at 1.8 times the global average. But they don’t all warm at quite the same rate. The tropics warm less quickly than the higher latitude regions: NASA Latitude Bands. With that adjustment for latitude, any country outside the tropics will warm approximately twice as fast as the (land and ocean) average of the entire planet.
All of these media stories convey the same misleading political message: the country is warming at twice the (unspecified) average, making makes it doubly urgent for that country to cut its greenhouse emissions quickly compared to all the other countries. This politically manufactured emergency tries to pressure the frightened voters (and their even more frightened children) to accept whatever measures their government proposes to reduce CO2 emissions. It also enhances the budgets and influence of the country’s environmental politicians and bureaucrats.
The Canadian Government’s report shows nothing more than that Canada is a land mass, not an ocean. Not scary, just trivial.
If our Prime Minister has “listened to the science”, as he has said, and has understood it, he should require his government to present the whole truth about warming. If that makes such stories and reports less scary so be it.
If governments want to use changes in “average” temperatures to justify higher carbon taxes and other costly measures to “fight climate change”, they should tell their voters exactly what they mean when using less than obvious terms like “average.”
NOTE: The Financial Post published a slightly different version of this post here.