Monday, March 25, 2019

Op-Ed: Baseball, Weather And Climate

By Dr. Richard Kaplan

It seems there are some misunderstandings swirling amidst the “debates” about climate change.  I would like to address one of them in this article—weather vs climate.
Consider a baseball team; here in the Southeast part of the state, that would be the Phillies, while in the west, the Pirates.  
Each of these teams has had success and failure over the many years of their respective histories.
However, I am going to invent a mythical team—something like the Yankees from the 1950s who were perennial winners.  This team I shall call the Invincibles.
Although they are outstanding, they occasionally lose a game.  More on that shortly. A baseball team requires 25 players of considerable skill—hitting, fielding, pitching, speed, intelligence, etc. and good management.  
The Invincibles have outstanding players at all the positions who are gifted at all the skills. So, how does a team of the best players lose a game now and then?  
Worse, during one July after winning 55 of their first 60 games, they proceed to lose every game during a week.  At the end of the week the papers are wondering whether the dynasty has ended and the fans are yelling for blood.  Or is it just a temporary slump.
After a week, they once again find their mojo and go on to win everything!  So, what happened?
There are a lot of what I shall call variables in baseball—exactly what amount of sleep players got the night before a game, where each pitch goes, where batted balls go, the weather, the strike zone of the umpire, a bad hop, etc.  
And baseball is played over nine innings, usually more than 100 pitches are thrown by each team, balls become hits about a quarter of the time, etc.  
So the variability, the seeing-eye ground ball single, the wind pushing a home run foul, has a lot to do with outcomes within the context of the relative skills of the players.
Climate has been shown by a great preponderance of studies to be changing; and this change has been shown by a number of studies to be mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  
This causation is conclusive based on a large majority of climate scientists and a large majority of research studies (such as the Fourth National Climate Assessment, various reports from IPCC).
Then along comes the polar vortex:  the temperatures in Southeastern Pennsylvania drop to near zero or worse.  
Immediately, some people say, some facetiously and others more critically, something like, “how is it possible to have such cold temperatures if the climate is warming.”  
Weather, on a day-to-day basis, results from the interplay of many variables, just like any given baseball game.  
These variables include the temperature, winds, moisture in the atmosphere, the turbulence in the atmosphere, the terrain, atmospheric pressure, the seasons, etc., as well as the bands of upper level winds known as the polar vortex which usually keep frigid air trapped in the Arctic region.  
Combine these variables on one particular day, and it is sunny and relatively warm.  Combine them in another way, and there are thunderstorms, and heavy rain, and high humidity, etc.  
And the freeze we felt was due to the polar vortex dipping south, sharing the frigid air coming from the Arctic.   The polar vortex freeze is equivalent to the wind blowing a home run foul resulting in a loss for the Invincibles--a slump in the weather pattern.  
This slumping southward does not, in the least, obviate the climate pattern of rising temperatures.
Like the Invincibles, the heated earth marches toward increased storms and hurricanes, increased disease and heat-related deaths, increased sea level rise potentially drowning cities and farmlands, notwithstanding the occasional slumps of the polar vortex.  
Day-to-day variability can affect the local weather and the outcome of a particular game, but the overall patterns grow—warming earth, triumphant baseball club.
Weather is about these local, short-time-frame activities of the climate.  
Climate is different; it is like a sequence of many full season of the Invincibles—with all the variability on many days, the trend for the Invincibles is winning most of the time.  
For the climate, the trends are long-term patterns of rainfall, temperature, winds, pressure, etc.  We all know what summer has been like in PA over many years—that’s climate.
If weather can be so variable, why is the climate so well-established in its trends?  Because, as climate science has identified, there are relationships and variables that play out over long time periods.  
The weather, with all its variability, sums to the climate.  The patterns are quite clear amongst the messy variability of the weather.  
This is why the charts that track carbon dioxide, rainfall, temperatures, number and severity of hurricanes and many other climate variables are so telling.  They show these trends quite clearly.
At the end of the baseball season, almost no one remembers the one bad week in which the Invincibles lost all their games.  
Instead, they are remembered for their overall stupendous won-lost record; and if they are a dynasty, they will be remembered for their longevity of success over many long seasons.  
Just like I remember (unfortunately) the dynasty of the Yankees in the 1950s.  And that is a trend in baseball seasons.
Climate scientists and those in related disciplines, like atmospheric chemistry, geology, oceanography, ecology, etc., have established, through extensive scientific observation and experimentation, the underlying processes of the climate.  
Although some areas are still being investigated, much is known about the causes and behaviors of natural phenomena that provide for the weather’s variability and the climate’s consistency.  
These scientific studies have shown, repeatedly, that the climate is changing, and emissions of fossil fuels are mostly to blame.  
Decision-making in baseball management is not affected by a week-long slump.  Neither should decision-making for dealing with the warming climate be impacted by the three days of polar vortex-induced frigid weather.  
We need to address the real problem—the heating of the earth.

Dr. Richard Kaplan is an Adjunct Professor at Arcadia University in Glenside, PA, a volunteer for PennEnvironment and a retired pharmaceutical environmental executive; from Fort Washington, he can be contacted by email at
Related Stories:
Op-Ed: Tackling The Climate Crisis: Moving PA From Fossil Fuel Giant To Clean Energy Powerhouse - Dr. Michael Mann, Flora Cardoni

No comments :

Post a Comment

Subscribe To Receive Updates:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner