03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Boy, It's Cold Outside" and the Nature of Climate Change / Global Warming

It is cold in my backyard, therefore global warming isn't real.

It is that sort of quite natural human (ego-centric) perspective that contributes to the difficulty that many face in comprehending climate change and global warming. Of course, this difficulty is exacerbated by those who actively distort, seeking to emphasize "cold" records while failing to discuss "hot" records.

Even honest and truthful reporting can lead to confusion, remembering that far too many people have a hard time looking past what they can see from their front porch (even if they can another country from that porch ...).

We find it hard, in part, to comprehend something as large (and, by human terms, gradual) as climate change for, among other reasons,

  • Our own eyes: we live in our spaces, our own 'environments'. "We are not born with global vision or a sense of history."
  • We tend to focus "on contemporary local concerns". Our evolution works against the long time frame as "humans did not need to know what the local climate would be like a century into the future" as "they were much more concerned with the necessities of the here and now, and had little time or inclination to ponder the abstract world."
Thus, when it is cold outside, when the thermometer goes down and the weatherman begins to talk of breaking cold records, the global warming deniers and self-proclaimed "skeptics" flock and smirk and declare 'proof' that climate change is not occurring (and, absurdly, ready and willing to speak of impending ice age). Simply put, these comments are based on deceit, data cherry-picking, and conveniently forgetting that around the globe, from America to Australia to the Arctic to ...., each decade is seeing more hot temperature records than cold temperature records.

This tendency for "it's cold here" to lead to a raft of climate skepticism creates sensitivity. Thus, reading something like this on Saturday raised hackles even if it's basically truthful information.

Baby, it is cold outside:

By the end of the weekend, 180 million Americans may shiver through record-setting cold.

The title of the original source: The Deep Freeze of 2010.

The unyielding cold spell gripping much of the nation was expected to hang on tight over the weekend, though some areas that saw snowfall during the week were expected to have drier weather.

And the big picture? By the end of the weekend, 180 million Americans may shiver through record-setting cold. Sixty percent of Americans will see and feel temperatures 15 to 30 degrees below normal.

This accurate material and clearly of interest to those freezing their butts off with more snow and ice than normal.

This article begs a question: What is "the big picture"?

Again, there is a 'framing' problem in discussing the "it's cold in my backyard, how can the globe be warming"-type discussions. As we're aware, US culture is incredibly inward-looking. Thus, "record-setting cold" in the US has this subtext, for many Americans: "Global warming is likely BS."

A bigger picture ...

There is a context for the US cold streak.

It is not just that US temperatures have been going up decade-to-decade, on average, even if there are occasional (very) cold snaps.

It isn't just that a location / area (the United States) or an isolated time period (today) isn't necessarily representative of a global phenomena occurring over time (Global Warming / climate change).

Thus, While Americans (and Brits, and (northern) French, and Swedes and Russians...) froze,

Temperature records were seen across Bulgaria on the first day of the new year, marking the second day in a row with unusually warm weather, the National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (NIMH) announced on January 1.

Thermometers soared to 22,4 centigrade in the Northern town of Veliko Tarnovo, an absolute record for the season. It was also hot in Varna, Burgas, Ahtopol, Blagoevgrad, Dragoman, which saw temperatures ranging between 17-22 centigrade. In the capital Sofia the mercury zoomed to 17,3 centigrade, beating the record from 1971 when it reached 16 centigrade.

  • Puerto Ricans roasted
  • Another record high temperature was reached at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in San Juan on January 5th, 2010. At 1:29 pm, the temperature reached 89F, which tied the record high temperature for January 5th, set back in 1980. This marks the third record high temperature of the new year in San Juan, PR.

    And, well, so on ...

    The "bigger picture," at least when it comes to climate change, doesn't stop at the border and doesn't encompass just one weekend.

    Oh, by the way, some journalists get it right. The title to one AP story: Experts: Cold Snap Doesn't Disprove Global Warming . And ABC had No, the Cold Does Not Mean No Global Warming. For another view of the current weather situation from a more global ("bigger picture") perspective, see Lou Grinzo, The Cost of Energy, The Arctic Oscillation, Again. Hat-tip to Lou for calling attention to the graphic below. See the red zones? Greenland at 50 degrees in January with much of the Arctic colored red; much of the US, Europe, and northern Asia are blue.

    For a related item, see Fire and Ice.