Definitions and how they change meaning

This blog got quite a boost on Saturday and Sunday when one of previous posts got tweeted by Tom Nelson and Paul Matthews (thanks to both of you). This gave rise to a sudden surge in views of this humble blog. Looking at the explosion of (re)tweets, skeptic and alarmist, something caught my eye that I didn’t noticed before. The title of this post was:

The absurd idea that our grandchildren are in danger from global warming

This was shortened from the title of the online article:

Climate researcher: the idea that our grandchildren are in danger because the earth is warming, is absurd

But suddenly it appeared to me that my short title would be interpreted differently depending the viewpoints of the one that is reading it. Let me explain. To me “Warming of the Earth” is the same as “Global warming”, but that is not the same for everybody. There are different definitions for “Global warming” and therefor the term will be understood differently.

Another definition is “Anthropogenic Global Warming”. Those who have that definition and hear about “global warming”, will understand it as the warming of the Earth caused by human emissions.

Yet another definition is “Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming”. Those who have that definition and hear about “global warming” will understand the warming of the Earth caused by human emissions that has dangerous effects on our environment.

That means that exactly the same name is used for three different meanings. This has some strange consequences. For example, when someone claims that “temperatures of the Earth rise” or that “Global Warming is real”, then that could be understood differently by different people:

  • those who think global warming is a “warming of the Earth” will completely understand what is being said, because the definitions they use are exactly the same
  • those who think global warming is a “warming of the Earth caused by human emissions”, will see this as a confirmation that the Earth is warming due to human emissions, although that is not the same what the actual message was
  • those who think global warming is a “dangerous warming of the Earth caused by human emissions” will also see this a confirmation that the Earth is warming due to human emissions and that this dangerous, although this is not what was the actual message was.

It is easy to fill in the other combinations.

What does that mean for the title of the post?

  • for me and those who assume that global warming is a warming of the Earth, the title was not world-shaking. It is exactly what was communicated: “The absurd idea that our grandchildren are in danger from a warming of the Earth”
  • those who assume that global warming means a warming of the Earth caused by human emissions, will hear the title as “The absurd idea that our grandchildren are in danger from a warming of the Earth caused by humans”. To them the title would probably be rather confusing because with that definition, the idea that grandchildren are in danger by something that we caused is not such an absurd idea.
  • those who assume that global warming means a catastrophic warming of the Earth caused by our emissions, will hear the title as “The absurd idea that our grandchildren are in danger from a catastrophic warming of the Earth caused by humans”. To them the title will probably not make any sense. How could the idea that our grandchildren are in danger from a catastrophic warming caused by us humans, be absurd?

Definitions, they are important.

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2 thoughts on “Definitions and how they change meaning

  1. manicbeancounter

    You make some good points. Clear definitions are an important first step in understanding an issue, as there is less room for confusion.
    “Global Warming” (GW) is just a statement about average surface temperatures.
    AGW puts in the cause, and is a subset of GW. This leads to the interesting and complex question of how much of GW is accounted for by AGW. The IPCC’s answer is >100%.
    CAGW is a subset of AGW. AGW can have positive benefits, be neutral, or have minor dis-benefits.

    Another term you may want to consider is “climatology” or “climate science”. The definition in Wikipedia is a good starting point. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climatology
    This tells me things climatology is not.
    It is not basic physics, but very much an applied science putting together the complex interactions (which rely on the basic physics) with empirical interrelationships.
    It is not a branch of economics, or of policy-making or politics or ethics.
    It also indicates what would constitute someone with real expertise in climate. It is someone who can relate the theory to understanding the real world, rather than explain model predictions or talk about things outside of the field.

    Reply
    1. trustyetverify Post author

      Absolutely. There are also terms like “climate change” and “climate disruption”. With no clear definition of what Global Warming, Climate Change or Climate disruption exactly mean, they leave nothing unexplained. There will be always something, somewhere warming, changing or seemingly disrupting. Without clear definition they are unfalsifiable and overwhelming amounts of evidence could be gathered that they are true.

      Reply

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