I have more than a few Tea Party adherents in my family who, prior to this summer, used to make a habit of sending me every little headline about how cold and snowy it was and how those “facts” proved that global warming was a fallacy being undone with each snowflake drifting down to earth. Oddly enough, they never sent me a single headline this summer about how unbelievably hot it was in the Northeast. I guess while I was bobbing around the bayous Louisiana they were reading the World Meteorological Organization’s Press Release No. 904 which came to the following conclusion: “The year 2010 is almost certain to rank in the top 3 warmest years since the beginning of instrumental climate records in 1850” and its byline: “2010 in the top three warmest years, 2001-2010, warmest 10-year period.” Well now, as if by magic, the spate of cold weather and overly abundant snowfall gripping the Northern Hemisphere has set off a new round of debate, doubt and denial as it relates to the changing climate.
Global Warming is not a hot button issue with me and I believe that the related science is still in the process of being validated. That along with the fact that some of the findings have been manipulated for political purposes makes for a situation where the jury is still out with the final verdict still in the process of being formulated. Likewise the same holds true for most of the counterarguments. However, none of the aforementioned takes away from the fact that there are discernable changes in the climate that cannot be denied. There is little reason to doubt that there have been major changes in the climate in the last 50+ years. To deny that is to make an argument contrary to historical fact. At 57 I can remember winters that were much different than they are now, at least around the Northeast where I grew up. One of the great misconceptions surrounding the global warming debate hinges around snowfall and temperatures. There is nothing inconsistent with the general theory of global warming where some regions will grow colder with increased amounts of snow fall while others see their climate grow warmer. It hinges in part on the changes in the ocean current, the jet stream and the Central Asian snow pack. Moreover what the opponents of global warming fail to realize in pointing out the increase in snowfall this year and last is that the debate about climate is about trends, not a snapshot of a series of weather events within a given winter or within several winters. Focusing on short term events instead of long term trends serves to undermine an opponent’s counter argument as it fails to account for the larger, longer term picture. It fails because climate is a long-term trend whereas weather is the short term manifestation of climate and to focus on a handful of weather events while ignoring the longer term trends is to invite a flaw into one’s analysis. That flaw ultimately leads to misconstrued and faulty conclusions.
Judah Cohen of Atmospheric and Environmental Research has recently published findings that effectively debunk the idea that the increased snowfall in the Northern Hemisphere is inconsistent with the idea that the overall climate is warming. Quoting Dr. Cohen:” The not-so-obvious short answer is that the overall warming of the atmosphere is actually creating cold-weather extremes… Annual cycles like El Niño/Southern Oscillation, solar variability and global ocean currents cannot account for recent winter cooling. And though it is well documented that the earth’s frozen areas are in retreat, evidence of thinning Arctic sea ice does not explain why the world’s major cities are having colder winters… As global temperatures have warmed and as Arctic sea ice has melted over the past two and a half decades, more moisture has become available to fall as snow over the continents. So the snow cover across Siberia in the fall has steadily increased. The sun’s energy reflects off the bright white snow and escapes back out to space. As a result, the temperature cools. When snow cover is more abundant in Siberia, it creates an unusually large dome of cold air next to the mountains, and this amplifies the standing waves in the atmosphere…That is why the Eastern United States, Northern Europe and East Asia have experienced extraordinarily snowy and cold winters since the turn of this century.” A further scientific elaboration on Dr. Cohen’s model and an assessment of its accuracy can be found in a National Science Foundation Special Report entitled “Predicting Seasonal Weather, A Special Report.”
Yet in contrast to the scientific findings that have been put forth from reputable organizations such as the National Science Foundation and Atmospheric and Environmental Research, a large element of the opposition’s argument seems to hinge upon conspiracy theories, an anti-intellectual bias or the preaching’s of that ever present claque of political entertainers who make their living on cable television masquerading as political analysts. Needless to say, it's definitely a hot button issue among the Tea Party crowd to deny the climate changes that have taken place. John M. Broder in an article entitled “Climate Change Doubt Is Tea Party Article of Faith” detailed the extent to which members of the Tea Party Movement are willing to accept anything but science in their efforts to dispute the scientific data contained in those reports that postulate that the world’s climate is changing due to global warming. Quoting Broder: “Skepticism and outright denial of global warming are among the articles of faith of the Tea Party Movement… For some, it is a matter of religious conviction; for others, it is driven by distrust of those they call the elites. And for others still, efforts to address climate change are seen as a conspiracy to impose world government and a sweeping redistribution of wealth.” Citing a New York Times / CBS poll conducted in October, Broder showed the degree to which members of the Tea Party Movement differ from the general public on the issue of global warming. Tea Party Movement supporters are considerably more skeptical when it comes to the existence and effects of global warming than the American public generally. The survey found that only 14 percent of Tea Party supporters said that the problem of global warming was here and now versus 49 percent of the public at large. More than half of Tea Party supporters said that “global warming would have no serious effect at any time in the future, while only 15 percent of other Americans share that view” and, “8 percent of Tea Party adherents volunteered that they did not believe global warming exists at all, while only 1 percent of other respondents agreed.”
Broder links the sentiments of the Tea Party Movement’s opposition to global warming theories with other groups that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. He points out that the fossil fuel industries have spent $500 million dollars since 2009 on lobbying against climate change legislation, that they have funded “lavishly financed institutes to produce anti-global-warming studies” and “waged a concerted campaign to raise doubts about the science of global warming”, as well as “paid for Web sites to question the science.” At the same time the anti global warming rhetoric has been a staple on the talks shows of America’s preeminent political entertainers: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and of course, Sarah Palin. Promoting anti-global warming skepticism has been a core tenet of right wing groups like Americans for Prosperity, and the Tea Party cash cow, Freedom Works.
All this begs a number of questions: If there is such a compelling body of scientific knowledge that disproves the theory of global warming, then why not just stick with the science and forgo the political theatrics? Why spend millions of dollars on lobbying and public relations to discredit the theory of global warming by raising doubts when you could just produce objective hard science results that point to the contrary? Surely the advocates of global warming theory were set back last summer when it was found that several scientists in England had fiddled with scientific findings for political reasons. That having happened, wouldn’t those who oppose global warming theory been better served by a counterargument based on facts at a time when their opponent’s integrity was in question? Or, conversely is their counterargument better served by the image of doubters poking around among snowdrifts with their yardsticks in some unscientific attempt to dispute actual scientific findings? Why do the doubters engage in deflection by saying that the argument surrounding global warming is really Marxist wealth redistribution disguised as science when the scientific reports don’t include any mention of politics and policy? Perhaps someone should clue these opponents in to the fact that we live in an age dominated by science and technology and that any disputing of hard science is not likely to come about via conspiracy theories, unsupported skepticism or Biblical quotes that address man’s relationship with the natural world within which he exists.
Steven J. Gulitti
World Meteorological Organization’s Press Release No. 904
Seasonal Weather, A Special Report
Bundle Up, It’s Global Warming
Atmospheric and Environmental Research: In the News
IPCC Official: “Climate Policy Is Redistributing The World's Wealth”
Climate Change Doubt Is Tea Party Article of Faithhttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/21/us/politics/21climate.html?_r=1&emc=eta1