Putting an uncommon winter into perspective

By Ken Midkiff

The temperature outside has been more than nippy of late, plunging well below zero on several occasions.  A sure sign global warming is a myth, those who deny it are quick to point out.

But the deniers are only pointing out their own ignorance.  Consider:


1. Global warming is truly GLOBAL.  The thermometer here may have been 10 below, but in Alice Springs, Australia the temp topped 115 degrees F (46.1 degrees C, well above the area's mean maximums).  

It's also winter here.  If we drop below zero for a week in July, then we can start debating the merits of "global cooling."

2. The cold is confined.  Only
Eastern states -- about 3% of the planet -- have experienced this winter's unusual U.S. cold.   The Western U.S. has been so warm, California is suffering from a drought of historic proportions.   Dozens of communities there face the threat of no water at all. 

3. Temps above freezing break ice.  The Russian ship stuck in Antarctic ice, the deniers say, is more evidence global warming is a fantasy.   But warming temperatures broke loose the ice that clogged the Commonwealth Bay, where the ship was anchored.  The water didn't just suddenly freeze.  Wind pushed the ice where it would not otherwise have become so dense.   In this case, ice enough to halt a ship in the bay means a lot less ice resting peacefully on a glacier. 

4. Global warming is incremental.  It does not happen suddenly.   At some “tipping point," when the oceans can no longer ameliorate warming, temperatures will climb more rapidly.  But that point is a few years off.

global warming is slow, tenth of a degree per year increases add up.   A mere two decades may well see temperatures rise, on average, several degrees.   Water freezes at 32 F or 0 C.   Add a few degrees, and a giant sheet of polar ice becomes a tidal wave of ocean melt.   What then for our cities by the bay?  What then for fragile ecosystems evolved to tolerate only minor temperature fluctuations?

5.  This millennium has been a warm one.  NOAA says 2013 was "the warmest global year on record."  NASA, using a different computational method, has 2013 at number seven.   But both agencies agree that all of the warmest planetary years have occurred since 2001.

By now, you may be asking, what am I doing reverting back to the old "global warming" language?  What happened to "climate change," that kinder, gentler scientific phrase?

Chalk it up to that master of science semantics, George W. Bush, whose administration traded "global warming" for "climate change" because they thought the latter "less threatening."

But the real threat lies in ignorance of scientific facts in favor of political opinions.  Taking a cue from another politician, Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "You are entitled to your opinion.  But you are not entitled to your own facts." 

We are all entitled to a healthy planet, and the facts we need to help keep it that way.