Straw man

Craig Kelly’s “straw man” claim confuses climate and weather

A “straw man” argument is a logical fallacy of creating a distorted or simplified caricature of your opponent’s argument, and then arguing against that. It’s a common tactic, so let’s have a look at this example.

The claim

On 25th August, Craig Kelly made this claim:

“some children have been taught to think the governments are so clever we can even stop bad weather”

Is that what children are taught? Does anyone think that?

Verdict

The claim is a “straw man” fallacy. It doesn’t reflect climate science and betrays an ignorance of actual climate change predictions and the difference between weather and climate.

There is no reason to believe school students are taught that, because it isn’t a true statement about climate science.

Analysis

Let’s start with some definitions.

Weather is what we get, day to day. And it varies a lot. Hot one day, cold the next. Dry one day, wet the next.

Climate is the long term average of the weather patterns we experience, usually taken over 30 years or longer. Climate varies too, but much more slowly.

Climate is what you’d expect, and weather is what you get.

Climate change predictions

Once we understand the definitions, we can see that varying daily weather is quite consistent with climate change.

In fact global warming predicts we’ll get more variable weather as well as a hotter climate globally, because warming puts more energy into the earth’s surface and atmosphere. And so the weather becomes more dynamic, more variable and potentially more destructive.

Global temperature is rising inexorably. And this will in the long run mean a change in the weather. It won’t eliminate cold days or wet days, but it will change their frequency.

And if we address climate change, we won’t stop all “bad weather”, but we will prevent our average weather changing so detrimentally.

The variation in weather

Our weather varies on several scales, including:

  • within a day, with the cycle of day and night;
  • day to day, as warm and cold fronts move across the landscape;
  • within a year, because of the seasons; and
  • over periods of years, as weather patterns such as El Niño and La Niña change ocean currents and bring colder or warmer weather to Australia and South America.

Each of these variations is superimposed on top of the ongoing warming trend.

And weather also varies with location. Global warming leads to some areas getting more rain and others getting less. It happens that NSW is mostly getting less rain (on average).

So it is absolutely no surprise that we still get cold and wet days even though the climate trend for eastern Australia is generally increasing temperature and reducing rainfall.

To suggest one cold day should lead us to doubt global warming is like thinking night time should lead us to doubt the existence of the sun.

What do they teach in schools?

The Australian Curriculum makes it clear that it sees climate change as affecting climate, not necessarily preventing cold days: “Earth hazards occur over a range of time scales and have significant impacts on Earth systems across a wide range of spatial scales.”

Students are taught: “the implications of future climate change events, including changing weather patterns”. Changing weather patterns isn’t the same as no cold days!

So of course we cannot know what is taught in each and every school, but it seems clear that few school students would have been taught that addressing climate change would prevent all bad weather.

They will have been taught the truth that taking action now will reduce the impact of global warming, thus saving the next generations from changes in the climate and the weather that will be extremely detrimental to Australia.

This claim of Mr Kelly’s is a classic “straw man” fallacy. Misrepresent the facts and then argue against your misrepresentation. This fallacy is generally used when one is running out of reasonable arguments.

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Graphic: Skitterphoto on Pexels.

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