Thursday, December 12, 2019

Mark Hineline

Mark Hineline is the author of Ground Truth: A Guide to Tracking Climate Change at Home.

From his Q&A at the University of Chicago Press blog:

The media and scientists highlight increasing temperature when they talk about climate change, but you discount temperature and instead highlight phenology. What is phenology, and why do you think it is more important than temperature?

Temperature, global temperature, is very important. But as people going about our daily business, we’re not equipped to make distinctions at the scale of a degree or two, or even five degrees. Humidity makes a difference in how we experience temperatures. So does a light breeze or a wind. To say nothing of how we are attired or when we last had a meal! For this reason, what scientists are telling us about temperature and warming is something that we cannot do a good job of confirming through our experience. The result is that we have to place a lot of faith in what scientists tell us. In many cases, we are willing to grant science and scientists that measure of faith. But for complex (and entirely nefarious!) reasons, this isn’t so with respect to climate change.

Phenology provides people who aren’t scientists with a tool to check up on the scientists. It doesn’t provide instant gratification—it takes time to get the confirmation if you happen to be stubbornly skeptical—but it does the job.

Phenology is the study of seasonal events in nature. We would be better off if the Belgian scientist who named it had called it “seasonography,” the description of seasons, instead. But he didn’t.

For many plants and animals, seasonal changes in temperature (along with day length) trigger changes in growth, reproduction, and (for animals) migration. A tree may bud according to temperature, and the buds may burst at a particular temperature. In that way, the tree (or any number of plants and animals) provides information about the temperature at a given time in a given place.

It’s not that temperature is unimportant. Of course, it is! It is rather the case that a phenological observation provides a more local and in some ways a more precise indication of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue