The Snowpocolypse Is Lousy Proof That Nothing Has Changed

I have no interest in wading into the global warming debate, and for purposes of this blog (or at least this post) I am happy to remain entirely agnostic as to whether its happening or what the causes would be. The whole “yes it’s real” “no it’s not” “is too!” “is not!” discussion just doesn’t appeal to me.

That said, I find one argument that is commonly advanced by climate change skeptics to be about a hundred times more aggravating than any other argument made by either side of the issue. And that is the “gee, it’s cold out there, so much for global warming!” meme.

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) shared the following deep thought with the world today, via Twitter:

First, the joke is very plainly not funny any more. If Global Warming Is Real Then Why Is It Cold offers a collection of a few hundred or so political cartoons containing variations on the same tired theme. Oh, and, DeMint? Senator Jim Inhofe already beat you to it, and at least his take is marginally more clever.

But second, and more importantly, much like the beliefs of creationists and anti-vaxxers, the belief that an unprecedentedly cold winter disproves some form rapid global temperature change is so asinine, it feels almost like a personal affront that anyone could believe something so stupid. Weather is the stereotypical example of a complex system; we are not yet capable of predicting with any long rage accuracy the effects of one weather system on another. To take the most common example, we know that El Niño, for instance, can cause Canada to be drier, South America to be rainier, the northern part of the U.S, and the Southeastern states to be colder. A single weather input can cause a wide variation in weather outputs elsewhere in the world — we wouldn’t expect to see a uniform, unidirectional change.

This may in itself be an argument against the reliability of any research on the long term effects of global warming, but its even more of a reason to discard the idea that an extreme and unprecedented weather event is an indication that things are business as usual with the world’s climate.


Customary Domestic Law

Something that has bugged me since, literally, the first class of the very first International Law course I ever took, is the emphasis on “customary international law” as if it were a distinct phenomenon unique to the formation of international law.

It’s just not. CIL is a specific term for a general phenomenon that occurs at all levels of law making everywhere.

I was reminded very much of that today, while making an early morning excursion into the heart of the Snowpocolypse. I was allegedly “going to get milk for the coffee,” but we really were stocked up on supplies, and I just wanted the excuse to venture out onto the streets.

D.C. was beautiful and desolate and exactly how I imagine the end of the world will look. And the most striking thing was the utter disregard for the normal rules of daily urban life.

Pedestrians walked openly down major downtown streets. People walking dogs waited on the dead middle of K while their dog did its business, and people on skis slid their way across 14th and U. The roads were easier to traverse than the sidewalks, so everyone used them instead.

I passed two cars during my whole walk. One was a Hummer that was stuck in a snowbank and spinning its wheels, and I laughed. The other was a police cruiser, that skirted around me as I walked openly down the middle of 14th, and the policeman waved.

There is not a statute somewhere that says, ‘Hey, when there’s a blizzard, it’s actually okay to disregard traffic laws.’ What almost everyone outside did today was blatantly illegal, and forbidden, and subject to numerous penalties and fines and who knows what.

But under D.C. Customary Law, when the Snowpocolypse hits, you can do whatever the hell you want when you’re trying to make your way down the street. Everyone — from the pedestrians to the police force — simply intuitively knows this, and makes no effort to enforce any other rules, no matter what the written codes may say.