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Claims that the East Coast Snowmageddon disprove climate change are full of hot air

02/11/2010

Yes, the weather outside if frightful, so frightful, in fact, that many Public Citizen employees in and around the Washington DC area find themselves snowed in.  But the recent spate of punditry about how the snowiest winter ever in DC is far from delightful.  It displays rash ignorance to the actual science of climate change and is full of the worst kinds of logical fallacies.

The first is the easiest to point out:  Because it’s cold and snowy, that must mean the earth isn’t warming.  First, remember that climate is different from weather.  And cold weather doesn’t negate global temperature increases, just as extremely hot weather, of which we’ve had our fair share the past few summers, doesn’t always mean climate change. We need to look at the world as a whole when it comes to temperature, and use long periods of time to smooth out outliers in the data. For instance, globally January was the warmest January on record, and, contrary to what the Utah State Legislature just said, the past decade was the hottest on record according to those rocket scientists over at NASA.

Another problem in the arguments of global warming deniers is that larger storms are predicted exactly by climate change models: all it takes is increased water vapor from warmer climes due to rising temperatures to end up in areas where it’s still below freezing.  More vapor + below 32 F =  bigger snowstorms. More vapor + over 32 F =  bigger rainstorms.

For the fact that it is snowy in DC to mean that climate change isn’t occuring would mean that it should be abnormally snowy and cold in most of the Northern Hemisphere. but that is also demonstrably not true.  Counterbalance the massive snowstorms on North America’s East Coast with its dearth of snow on the West Coast– with snow levels so small it threatens the Vancouver Olympics opening this weekend.

But really, you shouldn’t listen to just us on this, anymore than you should listen to those greenhouse gasbags on AM radio or cable news.  How about listening to real scientists who deal with climate and weather issues, or at least someone who plays one on TV.

Even Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert are getting in on the act.  We promise won’t hold it against you if you click over and have a watch.

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