Taking the heat

I was 18 years old when Robin Williams hit my awareness level with “Good Morning Vietnam”. He was an instant superstar, not only for me. At the time we still had to go fetch clunky VHS videotapes (that’s a plastic box with a magnetic band inside that was used to store movies for those who don’t know what I am talking about) in order to see the movie. No streaming then.

Some scenes were watched and re-watched many times. The one where Adrian Cronauer went into a conversation about local weather with a fictional soldier Roosevelt E. Roosevelt immortalized Robin Williams for me. Let me give you the exchange word by word.

Hey, can you tell me what’s your name? “My name is Roosevelt E. Roosevelt.” Roosevelt, what town are you stationed in? “I’m stationed in Poontang.” Well, thank you, Roosevelt. What’s the weather like out there? “It’s hot! Damn hot! Real hot! Hottest things is my shorts. I could cook things in it. A little crotch pot cooking.” Well, tell me what it feels like. “Fool, it’s hot! I told you again! Were you born on the sun? It’s damn hot! It’s so damn hot, I saw little guys, their orange robes burst into flames. It’s that hot! Do you know what I’m talking about?” What do you think it’s going to be like tonight? “It’s gonna be hot and wet! That’s nice if you’re with a lady, but ain’t no good if you’re in the jungle!” Thank you, Roosevelt.

Those who want to see the clip, click here.

Whats Adrian Cronauer doing on an energy blog – you may ask? If you have not lived on Mars for the last 3 months, you cannot have escaped all the declarations of the hottest day in (pick your preferred timeframe). Listening to it all, the planet is roasting in hell. Some weeks you could count multiple heat records being announced per day. 

What does it all mean in the context of Climate? Because that’s what really matters, doesn’t it? A little temperature record here and there and Climate Alarmists immediately get a shot in the arm. 

Not so fast.

Whats temperature? Yes, you read me right. I asked – what is temperature? Easy, you say. I go and see the thermometer and whatever it says is the temperature for me. That sounds easy. 

OK, well then lets put the thermometer just beside the exhaust nozzle of the compressor unit for the air conditioning. And another one right beside the cooling hatch of it. Which one shows the temperature that shall count s the official temperature?

OK, I am being cheeky now in order to produce extreme results. That’s not nice of me.

Let’s do it differently. Put one thermometer in the same room right on the window that gets all the sunshine and the other one at beside the doorway towards the corridor. Do you think they will show the same temperature? Which one shows what temperature it is supposed to be?

Oh, still not good? Well, I live in an apartment with high ceilings. 3,5 m to be exact (that’s 11,5 feet for the US readers). Put one thermometer on the desk and another one close to the ceiling. Which one is going to show the correct temperature?

I just want to note for good measure that we have not left the room yet and we are already in a pickle on what the real temperature is. But it gets worse.

If I measure the temperature every minute for one hour, which one of the 60 different data points is going to represent the temperature of the hour? Or for the day? And which of my multiple thermometers in the room (remember the locations?) will we use in order to get that?

What I want to show you is that a comparatively simple task like determining the average temperature of the day in one single room can be a headscratcher. The truth is that every average temperature must be the result of a formula that takes all or some of those data points into account. 

And that compromise is complex as there must be good and transparent reasons (or filters) which data points are chosen, how they are weighted against each other and what factors are allowed to influence the end result in order to harmonize numbers. Which is nothing else but a code word for fiddling with the result to make it fit into whatever picture one wants to see? 

All this complexity just for one room. This must necessarily inflate for a city or a country. Or, how about the world? The average temperature of the world necessarily is a fixture as there must be a gazillion different data points to take into account and then an impossibly complex formula in order to weigh things against each other.

But as we have seen, determining those factors is an exercise in opinions as everyone seeks to find the numbers that support his view of the world.

If your head explodes right now, worry not as it gets worse. Way worse. because data points don’t stay the same.

How that? You must think that having a thermometer somewhere and not moving it for 100 years and reading the temperature at noon every day must give us a simple but clean dataset. Sorry to disappoint you but we are far from reality now. 

Because temperature measuring stations don’t stay the same. The same point that has been in the wilderness 100 years ago often is part of an urban setting now. Many old measuring stations have been swallowed by its surroundings this way.

And once a measuring station is surrounded by an urban environment, it will measure radically different temperatures.

When I was a little boy, we lived in a small village 60km north of Vienna. The landscape was roughly the same as in Vienna but the weather was not. As kids, we knew that going to the city often meant snow outside but little to no snow inside the city. It often meant freezing outside the city and less freezing inside the city. This is the effect of the urban heat island.

Cities are dark and thus swallow heat (and store it to give it back overnight) plus human activities also cause a lot of waste heat which goes into the local environment. You can test this – take a hot summer day and walk barefoot with one foot on the grass while the other one walks on the tarmac. You will burn on one side and the other will be pleasant. Grass evaporates water which takes the energy up into the air and cools the soil. Tarmac cant do that and its dark.

I remember during my childhood in the 70ies, summers were sometimes so hot that we as kids had a lot of fun scratching the almost liquid tar out of the cracks in the street. 

Look at pictures of the Greek Mediterranean coast and you see white villages perched on the hillsides. The old Greeks understood that white surfaces radiate heat away instead of storing it. But today’s cities are very dark so they are heat stores.

And if you measuring station has been enveloped over the years in such a way, temperatures inevitably are going to rise. 

Some of the record-breaking measurements announced over the last weeks have been made just beside air ducts or greenhouses or right on dark parking lots. No wonder temperatures there go out of the window. You could hold a burning lighter under the thermometer and that would be more honest.

Temperatures are a result of circumstances, not absolutes like gravity or the speed of light. It’s a human decision just like I decided at the beginning of this text to twist things in order to produce extreme results on purpose. When money enters the process, human urges take over.

Temperature is consensus data, not a measurement. But that’s not what we are told. 

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