That's the sense you may have gotten lately in reading articles in the national media about how this incredible bun-freezing winter we've been having is evidence of global warming. When we have an especially hot summer, they say it's global warming. Now that records for cold temperatures are snapping like so many icicles and the northeast has just dug out of its worst blizzard in decades, we're told that's proof of global warming, too. Ever heard of the expression, "Heads I win; tails you lose?"
But there it was, the cover of the January 22 Newsweek: "Blizzards, Floods & Hurricanes: Blame Global Warming." There also was the New York Times front-page article by William K. Stevens: "Blame Global Warming for the Blizzard," and a nationally syndicated article by environmentalist Jessica Matthews which ran under such titles as "Brrr, Global Warming Brings Our Blizzard."
Not surprisingly, these writers have established careers as global warming doomsayers. Stevens harps on it so incessantly as to practically put to shame the Roman Senator Cato who insisted upon ending every speech with "Carthage must be destroyed."
Sure, sometimes counter-intuitive things happen. That's why somebody invented the term "paradox." But, doomsayers, the idea of warming causing freezing cold pushes that just too far.
"There's a silliness about [attributing blizzards to global warming] that's just overwhelming," says MIT climatologist Richard Lindzen. "Were global warming to occur," he notes, "you would have reduced temperature variance." That's because extreme cold comes from wind blowing down from the north. If the north and south poles warm the most, as global warming climate models predict, the north would be far less likely to produce the kind of icy blasts it has sent to us these past few weeks.
But Lindzen adds, "The truth of the matter is the poles haven't warmed and the storms we're having now produce very cold weather because the climate has not behaved the way the models have said they should."
University of Virginia climatologist Pat Michaels agrees that extremes in temperature would actually decrease if the world grew warmer, from night to day and month to month. "The season to season extremes are decreasing," says Michaels.
Then how to explain this terrible cold weather if it's not caused by warming? Hmm, that's a toughy. Could it be that when it comes to the weather, the abnormal is often the norm? To borrow from one of the more vulgar expressions of the day: Bad Weather Happens.
But to global warming enthusiasts, any and all aberrations are proof that the sky is falling. Thus, last year's high number of dangerous hurricanes was again cited as proof of the warming effect. It made an encore on Newsweek's January 22 cover. Yet according to a paper by eight prominent researchers in the November 1994 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, coastal inhabitants can rest easy. They wrote, "year to year variations" in weather "are so great that they must effectively swamp' any quite modest effect" of global warming on hurricane frequency.
Global warming enthusiasts desperately grasp at anything to prove their case. In early January the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia made headlines, including the New York Times, with a preliminary report saying 1995 was the hottest year on record. But their data was actually for only 11 months. Rather than risk December's temperatures spoiling everything they jumped the gun and sent out their press releases. Their fears where fulfilled when December's average temperature came in at the lowest in 17 years "It was a pretty ordinary year," said NASA scientist John Christy, who has been analyzing satellite data on temperature since 1979. And James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who pretty much started the whole global warming scare, admits his study of land areas--where the effects of global warming would be most severe--revealed 1995 was about 0.02 degrees centigrade cooler than 1990.
In short, the theory of global warming continues to be just that--an unproven theory. And even were it valid, the theory cannot explain blizzards and cold snaps.
And where does this weather unfit for man or polar bear leave global warming skeptics? Just as they have always claimed that an exceptionally hot summer doesn't prove global warming, they cannot now claim that an exceptionally cold winter disproves it. And they haven't. I've yet to any global warming skeptic make such a claim.
Global warming doomsayers have had similar opportunities for honesty. Instead, the likes of Stevens and Matthews went for sensational headlines. To them, any well-publicized weather story is an opportunity to promote their pet theory.
No, the theory of global warming hasn't been disproved. But clearly some of its more fervent enthusiasts need to step back, look at the evidence, and chill out.