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  • Writer's pictureFranklin Servan-Schreiber

The Law of Small Numbers

Kerry Emanuel, professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is the 2020 winner of the Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Climate Change by the BBVA foundation. Professor Emanuel was the first to link Hurricanes' force with the warming of sea surface waters driven by climate change.

His model currently predicts a mere 5% increase in hurricane intensity, i.e., wind speed, for each one degree rise in ocean temperatures. Some might think this is small change, nothing to worry about.

Similar remarks can be heard about a rise of "only" 1.5 degrees in average temperature. "I can't feel the difference between 24 or 25 degrees, what difference can it make to the planet?" we heard on occasion. But the laws of small numbers is not intuitive, climate change cannot be extrapolated from our own personal experience, it has to be mathematical.

Professor Emanuel explains that a three degree rise would make hurricanes 15% more intense, which means triple their destructive potential (link to interview).

There is nothing small about 1.5 to 3 degree rise in average temperature, the effects will be disproportionate from our limited human understanding.

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