Don’t Believe in Global Warming? Stick with Something Safer—Like the Lottery

Slot Machine

On January 16, The New York Times reported that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released independent compilations of data confirming that 2014 was the warmest year on record, measuring average global earth surface temperatures.

Climate skeptics are now busy developing new spin to brush off this new data, but it gets harder. Skeptics like to say that global warming has essentially stopped since 1998, but 2014 displaced 2010 as the record-holder, and the ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 1997.

The same article noted that the last time there was a month in which average global surface temperatures were below the global average was February 1985. The last year with below average temperatures was 1976. I was in college.

Not long ago, my wife and I were at a party in which we were talking about New York State wines. One of us made a joke about how many more varieties of grape will do better in New York with global warming. The woman we were talking with replied, “If you believe in global warming.” We initially thought she was joking, but we were at a party where a lot of people get their news from a source that might not put out the most accurate information on this subject.

OK, here’s a fun math exercise. Let’s say global warming is not happening. In any given month, there is an equal chance that the average global temperature will be above or below the long-term average. Odds that you will randomly get two months in a row that are above average are 1/22, or one in four. Pretty good odds. The odds that you will have four consecutive months above or below average are 1/24, or one in sixteen. Still pretty good odds.

But we’ve had 358 consecutive months of above average temperature. What are the odds? As you might have guessed by now, they are 1/2358, or (approximately) one in 587,100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000.

By contrast, your chances of winning the lottery are much greater. For example, your chances of winning the jackpot in the New York State mega millions lottery are one in 258,890,850.

So, if you don’t believe in global warming, just don’t bet on it.


Image thanks to Flickr member Jeff Kubina.