Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

It's cold. Does that debunk global warming?

(Read article summary)
View video

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

(Read caption) A snowball fight breaks out near the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

View photo

As Al Gore delivered his testimony to Congress on the urgency of addressing climate change Wednesday, snow and ice blanketed the nation from Oklahoma to New England, snarling commutes, knocking out power for hundreds of thousands, and providing an apparent irony that was too rich for some commentators to ignore.

Here's one from Fox News:

About these ads
It’s almost Groundhog Day. That means it must be time for Americans to wait anxiously for Al Gore to pop up out of his hole, mumble “global warming” to the shivering masses and then scurry away again while we suffer through several more weeks more of winter.
We won’t be disappointed. Gore is scheduled to nuzzle his way into a hearing for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday to warn of a warming planet. Temperatures are near freezing. It may even snow.
Gore’s appearance in the dead of bone-chilling winter is almost five years to the day since he came out of hibernation in New York and called President Bush a “moral coward” for his climate change policies. That very day the mercury in Central Park registered the coldest day the Big Apple had seen in 47 years!
Not much has changed – in the weather or Gore’s message. This time around, it might not be so bone-shatteringly cold, but it certainly has been a chilly winter.
ABC’s weatherman Sam Champion told viewers this season’s weather “feels like the coldest winter in years.” He added, “and a report from NASA climate scientists says 2008 was the coolest year since 2000.”

What the writer left out is that the same NASA report concluded that the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1997. As relatively cold as 2008 seemed, it still ranks among the top 10 hottest years on record, NASA says.

And the only reason that this winter may seem so cold is that the rest of this decade has been so warm.

Those who deny global warming often note that the hottest year on record was 1998. Writing recently in the Daily Telegraph, columnist Gerald Warner points to the chilly temperatures in England and claims, "Global average temperatures hit a peak in 1998, but have been declining since."

This is nonsense. According to Britain's Met Office, which has been recording temperature data since 1850, the next 10 hottest years after 1998 were, in order, 2005, 2003, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2001, 1997, 2008, and 1995. Does that look like a decline to you?

The Met Office's press release quotes Oxford climate scientist Myles Allen, who says, "Globally [2008] would have been considered warm, even as recently as the 1970s or 1980s, but a scorcher for our Victorian ancestors."

So why are a whole bunch of people (all curiously located in the northern hemisphere) saying that the cold weather refutes climate change? Because they aren't differentiating between weather and climate.

The National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration defines climate as the average of weather over at least a 30-year period. Climate, says  NOAA, is what we expect; weather is what we get.

About these ads

In other words, you can't tell much about the climate or where it's headed by focusing on a particularly frigid day, or season, or year, even.

So if you're feeling chilly this season, take heart: Winter is almost halfway over. The snow will soon disappear, and with it, perhaps, these silly arguments.