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Climate Reality Trumped by the Donald

04/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Bill Chameides Dean, Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment

Donald Trump to Al Gore: It's snowing so give back your Nobel.

We Americans are a great people with a proud history. We do have some faults, however. One of them may be a tendency to view ourselves as the epicenter of all human events.

Case in point: the recent brouhaha over record-breaking snowstorms. Last week, for the first time in recent memory, virtually every state in the union had at least a dusting of snow somewhere. (Hawaii was the exception. Hmm, maybe Obama was involved.) And of course the poor folks in the DC area ... well, enough said.

Many have pronounced that the wintry weather can only mean one thing: global warming is a myth. An editorial in the Washington Times proclaimed, "Record snowfall illustrates the obvious: The global warming fraud." After Washington's third snowstorm, Newt Gingrich somewhat incomprehensibly tweeted: "where is al gore to explain it snows this heavily as a sign global warming is imminent.

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Is a U.S. snowstorm the same as a global trend? No, but there's a lot of rhetoric blowing around what the recent snowstorms say about global warming. Even Donald Trump appears to have been blown away by the subject.

The latest to join the chorus is none other than Donald Trump. That's right, the man who parlayed his trademark invective "You're fired!" into two Emmy nominations (but alas no Emmy award) has entered the climate-change fray. Speaking to some of the lesser-known climate-specialist denizens at the Trump National Golf Club, Trump reportedly received a standing ovation with these words:

"With the coldest winter ever recorded, with snow setting record levels up and down the coast, the Nobel committee should take the Nobel Prize back from Al Gore."

Reality Check, Anyone?

There is a reason we call it global warming. The word global is used purposely to denote the fact that the phenomenon is global. And believe it or not, fellow Americans, global temperatures can be warming even if temperatures in the United States are not. Consider a few facts:

  • While we've been suffering with wintry extremes, other regions of the world have had to contend with extreme heat waves. These include Australia (see here and here), Brazil, and South Africa (see here, here and here). It would be just as silly for the folks in those regions to conclude that their sweltering weather is proof of global warming as it would be for us to conclude that lots of snow in the United States is proof that the globe is not warming.
  • So what is actually happening globally? Warm not cold temperatures. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climate Data Center reports that January 2010 is the fourth warmest January on record. And by the way, if you happen to run into Mr. Trump you might let him know that this has not been "the coldest winter ever recorded" even for the United States. Average temperatures in the contiguous U.S. in January 2010 were about a half a degree Fahrenheit above the long-term average. (Here's a discussion of global vs. U.S. temperatures.)
  • The fact is that this winter has been exceptional in the United States for its snow not its temperatures. Not that much of a surprise. Global warming will bring more extreme weather and specifically more severe storms with greater amounts of precipitation. Most of the time, greater amounts of precipitation means more rain, but in the winter, when temperatures are below freezing, that precipitation typically comes in the form of snow. (More on the science here.)

Et Tu, Trumpé?

That bunches of climate deniers have used the recent weather (along with some scientific missteps) to sow seeds of doubt about climate change is not very surprising, but Donald Trump? What happened?

Well, this is what I heard from an unidentified source: Trump got hit with a wicked wind during the last blizzard as he exited the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. The wind blew over his comb-over, which then acted as a wind sail and lofted him up and westward several blocks (see photo) and then rudely dumped him into the frigid Hudson River. Understandably, poor Mr. Trump hasn't been himself ever since.

Originally posted at www.thegreengrok.com.