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If Global Warming is Real, Why is it So Cold?
Four years ago Thomas Friedman suggested that we revise the term “global warming.” He was writing during the second North American Blizzard of 2010, which dumped up to twenty sudden inches of snow over the Atlantic seaboard and left many Americans scratching their heads over its wintry wallop. The doubting Thomases of climate change rallied, as they have in response to this year’s Polar Vortex, and licking their fingers, pointed out to everyone in the afflicted states of America that it was very cold outside. It was not warming.
Louisiana’s own Congressman John Fleming tweeted on January 2, “‘Global warming’ isn’t so warm these days.” Both Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump expressed similar disbelief that anyone could still be pushing a climate change agenda, Trump going so far as to say that “scientists are having a lot of fun” with us.
When we went through this exact same cycle four years ago, Thomas Friedman offered an alternative term for what’s happening to our planet. He called it “global weirding.”
He called it that because climate change involves change: “The weather will get weird; some areas will get more precipitation than ever; others will become drier than ever,” we’ll see anomalous extremes and an increase in violent storms. And that has come to pass. It’s true that the Polar Vortex has sunk temperatures as low as -45º C in North Dakota and 16º colder than average in Florida, but at the same time Australia spent most of the last decade in an extreme drought.
The fact is, global warming is global. Its effects are felt around the world, not limited to the 2% we experience here on the continental United States.
2013 Was the Seventh Hottest Year on Record
Last week, NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released their report on global temperatures. By NASA’s ranking, 2013 tied with 2009 and 2006 as the seventh hottest year since we began keeping records in 1880. NOAA ranked it even higher at the fourth hottest (the discrepancy is due to differences in data collection and their treatment of Arctic warming), but both NASA and NOAA agree that, with the exception of 1998, the ten hottest years on record have all occurred in the new millennium.
But Americans Don’t Believe That
A study from Yale and George Mason University reveals that 23% of Americans “do not believe that global warming is happening.” This percentage has increased from 16% at the beginning of 2013. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans who hold to this belief has also increased. Fifty-six percent of the disbelievers are now “very sure” or “extremely sure” that global warming is a hoax.
Even Though America Has Been Warming Since 1970
The U.S. Historical Climatology Network reports that, since 1970, every state in the country has experienced warmer winters at a rate “four-and-a-half times faster per decade than over the past 100 years.” Weather stations from coast to coast have recorded the fastest warming is occurring in the coldest states and that winter nights have warmed 30% faster than nights in the rest of the year.
But then Why Do We Have a Polar Vortex?
As the globe is very big and each part of it still experiences seasons, there will be drastic variations from point to point. But those stuck in the Polar Vortex must not overlook the fact that there is a difference between “weather” and “climate.” NASA defines the terms on its website:
“The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere ‘behaves’ over relatively long periods of time. When we talk about climate change, we talk about changes in long-term averages of daily weather.”
The Polar Vortex is a weather condition. Contrary to what Rush Limbaugh stated on his January 6 radio show, the vortex was not invented for that week. It has in fact existed for some time. Vortices exist in both Northern and Southern Hemispheres, with the Northern Vortex centered over Baffin Island and Northeast Siberia.
At the moment, the Vortex is not a source of confusion. Why it has slipped so far south, however, is. It has been speculated that climate change is a factor, but this has not been verified yet. One theory is that the diminishing sea ice in the Arctic has caused more heat to be absorbed by the newly open ocean. As the Arctic heats up, it affects the jet stream of wind that separates cold northern and warm southern air. This preliminary theory postulates that the jet stream will weaken as the difference in air temperature decreases, allowing the colder Arctic air to swing southward and cover North America.
This Weather is Colder, but Overall the Earth is Getting Warmer
We know that the Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Past Ice Ages attest to this and during the time of the dinosaurs even the atmosphere was transformed. The United States Geological Survey has analyzed over 300 samples of trapped gases in amber from sixteen world sites and determined that the atmosphere of Earth was once 14% denser in oxygen than it is today.
And we know, thanks to a study by the University of Waterloo and the Management Center Innsbruck, that Sochi, Russia will be unlikely to host another winter Olympics after 2050. Already, Vancouver had to helicopter in snow for its 2010 Olympics and Maryland cancelled its 2012 games outright when higher temperatures made its Winter Special Olympics impossible. In fact, “only six of the nineteen cities that have hosted Winter Olympics in the past would be able to reliably host the games again if high emissions predictions play out.”
We don’t know how much of it is our fault, but we do know that the Earth’s climate is changing. Yet if we know so much, why don’t all of us believe it?