Like me, you may have been wondering how to explain global warming to your swim coach since he’s been complaining about the unusually cold weather this year. You may hear him say something like this:
I am freezing here, why the hell are these scientists saying we have global warming?
Resist the temptation to do a face palm and call him “stupid” in your head. Keep in mind that most (if not all) of your swim coach’s life has revolved around dropping time and going faster. He/she likely lacks the basic scientific training to tell the difference between a short-term variation in seasonal weather and a long-term trend defining the overall climate of where you and your coach live. In the face of it, you may want to just skip trying to explain global warming to your swim coach, cause what’s the point? But wait, before you give up, consider what he already does know.
The road to success isn’t a straight line
Your swim coach is well aware that the road to swimming really fast, worthy of a medal, is not a straight line. If you are a regular swimmer, you know, and your coach does too, that you do not drop time at every meet. Sometimes it is just not your day, and no matter how hard you try, you end up adding time. On the other hand, sometimes you can swim really fast, surprising yourself and your coach. How you preform at a particular meet really depends on a lot of factors, which are not always predictable. This is why your coach takes a long-term view of your performance and analyzes the trend for your speed since you first joined the team. To show you what I mean, I have plotted swimming speed for a real teenage swimmer over a three year time period. The graph was created by calculating and plotting the difference in her speed (measured in seconds) at every meet as compared to her speed when she first joined the team.
It is safe to say her speed was about an average for kids her age when she started with the team, but progressively became faster as she practiced over the years. This is why the graph is labeled as a speed “anomaly”: her swimming speed can be considered an anomaly compared to the average teenager who isn’t part of a swim team and just can’t swim as fast.
As you can see, this swimmer increased her speed drastically in the beginning, but she had difficulty in a couple of swim meets. Despite this temporary difficulty, her swimming speed came back on track giving rise to an upward trend in performance compared to when she first joined the team.
Swimming speed and global warming
So what does a swimming speed trend have to do with weather and climate? You can think of weather as your performance at individual meets, and climate as your overall performance over time. To see what I mean, compare the swimming anomaly graph with the one below showing trends for global temperature departure (or anomaly) published by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
The red dots on this graph show temperature departure (or anomaly) from the average temperature expected for the globe, measured every year since 1880. This is similar to how we compared our swimmer’s speed to the average speed expected for a regular teenager. Note that just like our swimmer’s speed, global temperature anomalies vary from year to year, but the overall trend has been on the rise since 1950’s, which marked the dawn of industrial revolution.
Respond to your coach using this analogy
Using the analogy I just described, here’s an example of how to explain global warming to your coach. Next time your coach expresses doubt in global warming, you can approach him with a conversation like this:
“I am freezing here, why the hell are these scientists saying we have global warming?”
Coach, scientists are talking about the overall trend for temperature over time. Just because this year is a bit colder it does not mean the global temperature is not increasing over time.
What are you talking about? What do you mean by “trend”?
Well, you know how when I add time in a meet sometimes I get frustrated and get discouraged?
What do you tell me every time I get fed up with adding time during a meet?
I tell you to look at your speed over time, since you started. You can’t use one bad meet to judge your overall performance. As long as you are losing time in the long run, you’re fine.
Well, global warming is kind of like that. This year we might have a winter that’s a bit colder, but you need to look at the temperature of the globe over time since the start of the industrial revolution. If you look at those graphs that scientists publish, you can see that temperature trends are on the rise, just like my speed since I started.
At this point, if you are wondering how to better paint a picture for your coach, show him the graphs I have shared in this article. This conversation may not entirely change his mind about global warming, but it will help him think a bit more clearly about this topic. It will also set the tone for your future conversations with him in the summer, when he complains about being too hot!
Who else can you enlighten?
Just like your swimming performance, there are many situations in life where people experience ups and downs. Financial planning comes to mind, where volatility of the stock market is a normal part of life. You can use a similar strategy described here to explain global warming to a financial planner. What other situations can you think of where our analogy can be applied?