Now, as in the past, climate change deniers are using the extreme, cold weather as an opportunity to call climate change a hoax. The recent “polar vortex” has conservative ideologues such as Rush Limbaugh and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) feeling frisky.
As temperatures in some parts of the country dropped to 30+ degrees below zero this week, some conservatives have jumped on the opportunity to revive their previous, misguided notion that cold weather disproves the existence of climate change.
On Monday, Sen. Inhofe, a notorious climate science denier, said that, due to recent cold temperatures across the country, climate change science is “laughable.” On Tuesday, talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said scientists’ claim that global warming may have caused the polar vortex is a “hoax,” and said the media invented the term “polar vortex” to contribute to the deception.
Four years ago, much the same debate arose as a result of a blizzard in the Mid-Atlantic States. Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert responded to Fox News reporters and others who said that the snow on the east coast was “breaking Al Gore’s heart” and “ruining his theory.”
“As you can see, the east coast is being slammed by a classic nor-easter,” Colbert said, referring to a map of the US. “Especially hard hit is Washington D.C., where, in the last week, it has snowed twice, therefore repudiating the theory of global warming.”
Multiple Fox News hosts jumped to question global warming after the winter storms in 2010, saying that if the weather was cold and snowy in some parts of the US, global warming must certainly not exist. “That is simple observational research,” Colbert noted after showing a clip of the hosts and their remarks. “Whatever just happened is the only thing that is happening. Ask any peek-a-boo-ologist,” he said, showing a picture of an infant.
Four years’ worth of scientific research later, conservatives are still determined to attempt to cast doubt on climate change. And, for some reason, individuals like Inhofe and Limbaugh still seem to believe their personal opinions are more valuable than a consensus by the vast majority of scientists and scientific research.
In an article entitled, Go Home Artic, You’re Drunk, bioanthropologist Greg Laden discusses why the existence of cold weather does not disprove global warming. Laden notes that the cold air mass that usually sits over the Arctic during Northern winter has shifted, so that it is not situated right above the pole as usual. “We are not seeing an expansion of cold, an ice age, or an anti-global warming phenomenon,” he notes. “We are seeing the usual cold polar air taking an excursion.”
Rick Grow of The Washington Post noted in December that a phenomenon known as sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) had recently commenced and was likely to impact a colder-than-normal January in parts of the United States. “Sustained Arctic outbreaks have occurred over the eastern half of the U.S. in the wake of several past SSW events,” he said. “The District [of Columbia] – and the East at large – will be turning very cold later this week.”
In fact, scientists have predicted that climate change will produce more frequent and more extreme weather events. And global warming may even be contributing to the record cold temperatures experienced across the US this week, according to some scientists. Quartz explains,
Snow and ice are disappearing from the Arctic region at unprecedented rates, leaving behind relatively warmer open water, which is much less reflective to incoming sunlight than ice. That, among other factors, is causing the northern polar region of our planet to warm at a faster rate than the rest of the northern hemisphere. (And, just to state the obvious, global warming describes a global trend toward warmer temperatures, which doesn’t preclude occasional cold-weather extremes.)
Since the difference in temperature between the Arctic and the mid-latitudes helps drive the jet stream (which, in turn, drives most US weather patterns), if that temperature difference decreases, it stands to reason that the jet stream’s winds will slow down.
Climate scientist Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University explains her theory that Arctic sea ice loss has driven these extreme changes in this short video. Atmospheric theory predicts that a slower jet stream will produce wavy weather patterns, leading to more frequent, more extreme weather, which is exactly what we’ve seen in recent years.
Dr. Kevin Trenberth, a senior climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research told ClimateProgress that he is skeptical of Francis’ assessment because it shows a correlation; however, correlation does not equal causation. “I am not saying there is no [climate change] influence, but in midwinter, the energy in these big storms is huge and the climate change influence is impossible to find statistically.”
“The answer to the oft-ask question of whether an event is caused by climate change is the wrong question,” he once wrote. “All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.”
And science also tells us that the climate is changing at an “unprecedented” rate. A study released last year that looked at changes in global temperature over the past 11,300 years found that the earth is warming at an “amazing and atypical” rate and that current global temperatures are warmer than during 75 percent of the Holocene temperature history.
“Weather is what happens in the atmosphere day to day; climate is how the atmosphere behaves over long periods of time,” Bryan Walsh of Time Science notes. “Winters in the U.S. have been warming steadily over the past century, and even faster in recent decades, so it would take more than a few sub-zero days to cancel that out.”
Ninety seven percent of scientists and peer-reviewed scientific papers on the subject agree that man-made climate change is happening. This year, the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change released a comprehensive report stating with 95 percent certainty that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed global warming since the mid-20th century.
On his show this week, Mr. Colbert addressed those who claim the polar vortex disproves climate change, including Donald Trump and several Fox News anchors. “If one day of below-average temperatures doesn’t make you question climate change, then maybe one minute of Fox & Friends will,” he said.
Referring to a clip of a Fox News report showing a picture of Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth with a $1 sale price tag on the front (and of which a Fox anchor notes, “we don’t actually know where this picture was taken”), Colbert responds, “This anonymous twit pic is a major story because the only reason I ever believed global warming was real was because the Inconvenient Truth movie made a lot of money.”