Wintry Weather Ignites Climate Change Debate

By Reed Karaim

In the charged partisan atmosphere of Washington, even the weather is a political football. No sooner had the city been struck by its second snowstorm in a week, than global warming skeptics seized on the cold and damp winter as proof the world wasn’t heating up, after all.
“It’s going to keep snowing in D.C. until Al Gore cries Uncle,” The Washington Post quoted Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., crowing in a tweet. The New York Times reported that the family of the Senate’s leading climate change scoffer, Sen. James M. Inofe, R-OK, built an igloo on Capitol Hill and hung a sign labeling it “Al Gore’s new home.”
The former vice president, presumably safe somewhere in warmer climes, has yet to respond. But climate scientists swung back at the skeptics by noting that fiercer winter storms actually fit climate change models. “The science is crystal clear that many extreme weather events have increased in recent years — and that there is a link to climate change,” wrote Joseph Romm, a physicist and climate expert who edits the blog Climate Progress.
The winter weather isn’t the only news that has aroused climate change skeptics. The other concerns reports of errors in a 2007 report by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The U.N. report, updated regularly, is intended to serve as a compendium of climate change research and its conclusion that the evidence for global warming is “unequivocal,” is often cited.
But critics have seized on errors they claim exist in studies cited within the report, particularly concerning the rate at which glaciers are melting in the Himalayas. They have also criticized the chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra K. Pachauri, for an alleged conflict of interest. Pachauri works as a consultant for investment banks and firms that could profit from carbon-trading policies enacted to combat global warming.
Pachauri has responded forcefully to his critics, saying he makes no money from these activities; it all goes to the Energy and Resources Institute, a nonprofit research center in Delhi that Pachauri founded, which promotes sustainable development and supports charitable projects worldwide.
As for the criticisms of the 2007 report, the U.N. panel has acknowledged an error in the conclusion that chances are very high the Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035. In a statement the IPCC said the conclusion was “poorly substantiated” and standards of evidence required by IPCC procedures were not applied properly.
However, the IPCC stood by the broader evidence that the retreat of those glaciers and others is projected to accelerate through the 21st century, saying the conclusion remains “robust and appropriate.” The IPCC also found another charge unwarranted. Overall, several scientists have described the claims against the report, which cites a broad range of studies, as relatively minor.
In the political blizzard of charges and countercharges surrounding climate change, the long view can easily be lost. The scientific consensus for manmade global warming is not dependent upon any one study or data set but represents the conclusion of hundreds of studies conducted by climate scientists around the world for more than three decades.
With this winter’s weather, some residents of the Northeast can be excused for wondering, “Where’s my global warming when I need it?” But weather is not climate. Weather is what’s happening in the atmosphere, more or less right now. Climate is the aggregate norm of weather for a geographical area over a long period of time. Romm, other climate scientists and many climate skeptics agree that no single weather event can be blamed conclusively on climate change.
So, enjoy the snow. What does it mean? It means the kids have been home from school a lot and you might not have to go to work today.

For background see "Climate Change," Reed Karaim, CQ Global Researcher, February 2010


David Wojick, Ph.D. said...

One must distinguish between political and scientific discourse. Skeptical politicians hyping the deep snow is no different from warmers hyping Katrina or the euro heat wave.

As for the email and IPCC scandals, it is true that they do not affect the science much, except to suggest that some scientists are blinded by ideology. However, there is no "scientific consensus." many scientists support theories of natural variability to explain the warming, rather than a human cause. A balanced analysis would reflect this scientific controversy.