If you're playing craps in a Vegas casino, rolling 11 is an 18 to 1 shot. No one would bat an eye if you rolled 11 once ... or twice. Roll 11 several times in a row, however, and eyebrows would go up. The pit boss would likely take a hard look at the dice. If you're caught with a pair of loaded dice, you'd be looking at hard time in the state pen.
Why would a cheater try to slip a pair of loaded dice onto the table? To boost the odds the dice roll will make bets pay off. That's what the term "loading the dice" means. It means changing the odds.
When most of the country experienced unusual warmth last month (except for us here in drippy, cloudy Seattle, where we're waiting impatiently for winter to loosen its grip), climatologists with a knack for communicating climate science began dropping the term "loading the dice" into their conversations with reporters.
Whenever freakish weather imposes itself on our lives, a question that arises frequently is: Did climate change cause this (insert heat wave, drought, flood, whatever here)? Wrong question, climate scientist Dim Coumou of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research told the Washington Post. The right question is: Does adding heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere boost the odds of freakish weather events? In other words, are we loading the climate dice?
An analysis that Coumou and another scientist published in a climatology journal suggests that the answer is yes for some extremes, such as extreme heat waves and torrential rainstorms. So, you can't definitively say the heat wave that blistered Texas last summer was caused by climate change. What you can say is there's evidence climate change has increased the odds of such heat waves occurring.
Bring it down to earth with a simple analogy. Drinking one can of a sugary soft drink won't rot your teeth. Drinking 10 cans of the stuff day in and day out for years raises the odds you'll be paying your dentist's country club dues.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently published a special report that makes the same point. Based on evidence gathered since 1950, some extremes have become more frequent and there seems to be a connection to greenhouse gases building up in the atmosphere. The words in the report are carefully chosen, couched in the conservative language that scientists prefer and that drives more zealous environmental activists crazy.
The Summary for Policymakers, for example, says: "It is likely that anthropogenic influences have to led to warming of extreme daily minimum and maximum temperatures at the global scale. There is medium confidence that anthropogenic influences have contributed to intensification of extreme precipitation at the global scale."
There is insufficient evidence, however, of increasing hurricanes and other tropical cyclones, in either intensity or frequency. Nor is there sufficient evidence to say tornadoes or hail have become more extreme, largely because there isn't enough good data that would enable scientists to draw valid conclusions.
Still, there is enough information, reinsurance executives say, to warrant taking this extreme weather stuff seriously. If there's a greater likelihood of nasty weather, and there are more people and buildings in harm's way, ignoring the problem is foolhardy.
If the dice are rolling a hard 6 one too many times, it's time to pay attention.
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