It's freezing all over the country, you look at places like Texas they're setting record lows and Oklahoma where they've never had problems, they're having snow... well it's a hoax. -- Donald Trump, Fox and Friends, January 6, 2014
This winter has seen the coldest weather in decades throughout much of the United States. Temperatures in the Midwest have been dangerous. The weather, though less cold along the coast where I am, has been more unpredictable. On one Monday, the temperature in Providence, RI was close to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The following two mornings, it was near single digits -- a nearly 50 degree difference.
"It's cold," the deniers are ready to proclaim. "This is not global warming."
As if one or two arctic blasts could refute the reality of climate change. Ironically, these extreme cold snaps are really pieces of evidence that our climate system is growing more unstable, as climate change models have predicted since the 1970s and as our observations now show.
For those who haven't been paying close attention, for every new climate assessment that is released, the forecasts are getting worse -- greater global temperature increase (particularly at the poles), greater sea level rise, bigger and more violent weather extremes. Expect the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report due out in the Spring to be even more stark as new models start to better account for the growing threat of methane emissions from the melting permafrost and warming seabeds, where frozen methane crystallites accumulate in massive quantities.
Despite the increasingly gloomy outlook for the planet, climate scientists are careful not to say any particular storm or other weather phenomenon is caused by climate change. The scientists' reticence is due in part to an unwillingness to appear "political" and thus endanger the grant funding that makes their work possible, but more specifically because they are being approached with an invalid question.
Rather than asking if this or that hurricane is a result of global warming, the question ought to be how much of all the weather that the planet is experiencing is caused by climate change? While storms appear to be discrete events, they are manifestations of a planetary system fueled by the hydrological cycle.
Here's a nice way of understanding this systems perspective of climate that's been getting some traction:
Barry Bonds hit 24 home runs as a 24-year-old in 1988 when the IPCC was first formed. Thirteen years later, as a 37-year-old (a geriatric in baseball player years), Bonds hit a world record 73 home runs. There's a lot of speculation about how many of those home runs can be attributed to performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). And while you could ask baseball experts to look at one of those blasts and ask if it was steroids, you would get a similar look out of that analyst as you would from a climatologist asked about any single storm.
The truth is we don't go back and look at each homer Bonds hit to try and figure out what his real number was, because every swing of his bat was in some part attributed to the PEDs. We say the whole season of hitting was tainted, steroids influenced all 73. Every home run of that era in baseball is now looked at suspiciously as a manifestation of a systemic sportwide use of drugs.
Likewise, all weather, extreme or not, is now a result of our systemically changed climate (aka climate change). So, I will say what the scientist will not: Our freezing weather is the result of global warming. This polar vortex descended on us because arctic warming combines with increasing amounts of water in the atmosphere to produce instabilities in the jet streams that normally keep arctic weather up north. We should expect such vortexes more frequently in the future as arctic temperatures continue to rise faster than elsewhere and more water gets absorbed into the hotter atmosphere. I admit that this theory is simplistic and probably incomplete, but what is certain is that climate change played a role in this weather, because it is playing a role in all weather.
Watch Jon Stewart make Trump look silly below.
Let us waste no further time in debating the reality of climate change. The globe is warming, the weather is on steroids. We are experiencing it daily. It's time now to start dealing with the damage we've done and to start doing everything we can to stop it from getting worse. And please, Mr. Trump, stop suggesting that cold weather disproves climate change.
Click here to put Trump in his place.