As the east coast recovers from Snowpocalypse, some global warming alarmists have said that we shouldn’t read too much into the blizzards. We can’t draw broad conclusions about climate change based on particular storms or regional weather trends. You know what? They’re right.
Now there is irony in the fact that the blizzards hit just as the President announced the formation of the Climate Service, charged with managing and coordinating the effects of “climate change.” But that’s all it is: irony. Snowpocalypse neither proves nor disproves the theory that human activities are disastrously effecting earth’s climate, but it did provide an opportunity for several conservative commentators, like Limbaugh and Hannity, to crack wise at the expense of the alarmists.
Chris Matthews wagged his finger at such jocularity, piously declaring that “…the average global temperature last year was the second highest on record…” and that “…cold weather in one area over several days doesn’t change the reality of what’s happening to this planet…” You know what? He’s right too. Well, Chris was right as far as he goes.
Unfortunately, Matthews stopped short of explaining the whole story, which this scientist finds rather disappointing coming from a fellow who, like me, boasts a Jesuit university as an alma mater. Perhaps Chris missed those critical thinking lessons that the Jesuits try to impart on eager young students.
While 2009 did indeed yield the second highest average global temperature on record, a couple of other facts need to be considered. For instance, 1998 (the year that claims the top spot “on record” – a phrase that has more significance than Matthews realizes) was an El Nino year, just like 2009. The Pacific Ocean releases more heat than normal during El Nino events, thus nobody was surprised when temperatures climbed last year. Any other result would have been shocking.
More importantly, let’s drill down into that all important phrase “on record.” Global temperatures in 2009 are the highest on record only if: 1) the “record” starts in the mid nineteenth century, when semi-reliable temperature records first come into play, or 2) the “record” goes back millennia but includes only that portion of the secondary indicators (aka: proxy data), like tree rings and ice cores, that organizations like the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (CRU) and the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would like us to consider.
The problem with the first approach is that 150 years or so of data is far too little to be of any significance when it comes to a system as dynamic and complex as global climate. One can not discern a trend based on a snapshot. The problem with the second approach is a little more complex. Bear with me.
The “normal” climatic condition on planet earth, in recent geologic time, is an ice age. Ice ages last up to 100,000 years, but – for reasons nobody completely understands – warmer periods, called “interglacials,” interrupt this chilly condition. We are happily in the midst of an interglacial now. No one, on either side of the debate, disputes these facts.
But, is there something unusual going on during this particular interglacial? To put a point on it, could the fact that humans have recently released more carbon into the atmosphere turned this particular interglacial period into a runaway anomaly, disrupting the natural cycle and leading us down the path toward irreversible warming?
For that to be true, then it is necessary to prove that average planetary temperatures today are both unusual and unprecedented. To do that, we need to establish a temperature record that goes well beyond the century and a half of thermometer readings (and recordings by other temperature measurement devices) that scientists can utilize with relative confidence.
To do that, we need to use the proxies that we mentioned earlier, but here we run into another problem. Some proxy data indicates that the average planetary temperature was much higher than it is today, specifically during the Medieval Warm Period (approximately 1000 – 1400 A.D.). Indeed, the IPCC’s first report acknowledged that the Medieval Warm Period existed. (See the chart, taken from the first IPCC report). Since then, the IPCC, CRU, Al Gore and others have done their damnedest to “disappear” this event, chiefly by picking and choosing friendly proxy data that would make it go away.
Leading skeptics have argued that alarmists have cherry-picked data in order to buttress the alarmist claim that there is no way that the current warming trend can be a natural phenomenon. After poring through the data and reading the arguments on both sides, this scientist happens to agree with the skeptics. But, with so many statistics and subtle concepts in play, how can the average, non-technical person make up his mind?
Even if you are personally unable to digest the nuances of the science, you must ask yourself this: who would you rather believe? A cadre to independent scientists who have exposed the deceptions of the alarmist crowd, or a group of sullen, sheltered academics who we know have lied, fudged and bullied in order to further their narrative?
As a scientist, I do cringe when someone points to a blizzard as proof that global warming is a sham, even as the humorist inside enjoys a guilty chuckle. But, it’s far worse when a talking head tries to claim that a short term temperature trend is somehow representative of the ebbs and flows of the climate that naturally occur over thousands of years.
All I can say to guys like Chris Matthews is something I learned early on in my Jesuit education: “veritas vos liberabit.”
Chris, you might want to write that down.