The Way Things Should Be

Like many TV weather reporters, our local guy often shows today’s high and low temperatures compared to the average temperatures for this day. He has gotten into the habit of saying, “Here’s the high for today, compared to what it should be.” This reveals a common misconception about average numbers, as well as the weather.

As an example, despite his baffling addiction to obsolete music, my friend Brizz has a very high IQ, probably in excess of 130 or so. This means (according to my weatherman) he is at least 30 IQ points above where he should be.

Does the median indicate “shouldness” as well? The median U.S. household income in 2010 was $49,445, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Obamas reported an income of $1,795,614, or $1,746,169 more than they should have. No doubt Barack Obama would agree with this. There comes a point when you have made enough money.

The average height for white American males is approximately 5 feet 10 inches. This means I am about 1.5 inches shorter than I should be, and Kobe Bryant is 8 inches too tall. Obama should do something about this.

It’s human nature to want to define how things outside of our control “should” be, especially when it comes to the weather, as weatherman Todd regularly demonstrates. We get an odd sense of unease if the temperature is well off the average. We expect this year’s rainfall to be pretty much like last year’s, and if it isn’t, something’s amiss. And if we see several years in a row warmer than the previous several years, we get downright alarmed, with the help of fear-mongers like Al “We’re doomed” Gore.

Keep a few facts in mind. The earth is about 4.6 billion years old. By studying ice cores, tree rings and other evidence, scientists have been able to determine two important facts: First, it has been much colder than it is now; and second, it has been much warmer than it is now. Climate change is real, and it has been real throughout the life of the earth, even when we weren’t here driving our Hummers.

Homo sapiens appeared about 200,000 years ago. If the earth had been around for just one year, then we humans appeared a little over 20 minutes ago. We just started keeping accurate climate records within the last minute. Could there be just a touch of hubris in our (and Todd’s) judgement of how the weather “should” be?

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