Snow storm hits nation's capital

Q: If we’re so worried about global warming why has it been so cold here in the U.S., in Europe and other parts of the globe? What do weather statistics say has happened during the past 50 years? And how does weather differ from climate (is there a difference)?

Turnabout is fair play for activists who insist that a single event like the current cold snap doesn’t disprove global warming. They’re right that it doesn’t, but neither does a summer heat wave prove it — yet this has not stopped proponents of doom from hyping each one. What matters are longer term trends, and those are pointing away from the notion that climate change is a crisis.

While the chilly start to the year does not a trend make, we are in a decade-long period of no additional warming, despite continuously rising carbon dioxide concentrations. That is a significant trend, and it is also important because it undercuts the notion that there is some near-infallible scientific consensus about global warming and mankind’s contribution to it. Consider the United Nation’s 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the supposed gold standard of consensus science. None of the climate models relied upon by the IPCC foresaw the current flattening out of temperatures, yet these are the models whose predictions of future warming form the basis of several US and UN proposals.

While the current cold spell does not by itself undercut the global warming theory, it is not without its policy lessons. The deep freeze has claimed a number of lives across the country, and indeed extreme cold is deadlier than extreme heat. The possibility of potential benefits as well as risks from a slightly warmer future (whether naturally-caused or not) should be a part of the global warming debate, but rarely is.

Some activists, in a move that smacks of opportunism, are now claiming that the cold snap is evidence that global warming increases extreme whether events, be it unusual cold or heat. In truth, the evidence of an uptick in extreme weather is thin. In fact, when it comes to cold spells, heat waves, hurricanes, droughts, floods or other natural disasters, the only clear trend is the dramatic drop in the number of deaths from them. There has been a 95 percent drop in annual mortality from extreme weather events since 1900, with no change in the decline during periods of warming over that span.

Folks shoveling their driveways or cranking up their thermostats are likely becoming less convinced about global warming and the merits of costly policies to address it. They may be growing skeptical for the wrong reasons, but their skepticism is right on the money.

Reposted from The Washington Post’s “Planet Panel”