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Ben Lieberman

Ben Lieberman

Ben Lieberman, a specialist in energy and environmental issues, is a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation's Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies. ALL POSTS

Cold spell doesn't undercut climate crisis -- but other things do

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.

By Ben Lieberman  |  January 13, 2010; 8:10 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Scroll down the page at the link given below, and take a look at any or all the graphs. A trend becomes apparent (if you have an open enough mind to see it).

http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/

Posted by: critter69 | January 15, 2010 11:13 PM
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... The Weather and Climates around the earth change just like the seasons. CO2 doesn't cause the earth to warm and cool, the earths relationship to the Sun does....

Posted by: ignoranceisbliss | January 15, 2010 12:48 PM

Interesting. Which suggests that the climate on earth's moon would be pretty similar to that of the earth.

I'd put up a link on record highs vs. record lows of 2009 but I noticed your handle and presume you want to keep it that way.

Posted by: James10 | January 15, 2010 10:16 PM
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I am a graduate student at the University of the Virgin Islands, and may be able to give another perspective about global warming.

Around 30% of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmoshpere is absorbed into our oceans. The ocean is a great buffer zone, and can help to eliminate excess chemicals but all buffers have a limit and the ocean is nearing its own.

The problem is when CO2 is in excess in the ocean it is made into carbonic acid, thus making the oceans more acidic. This breaks down calcium carbonate, which is what the shells of whelks, conch, and the structure of corals are comprised of. These organisms will have thinner shells making them easier to prey on, and eventually may not be able to secrete calcium carbonate at all.

In addition to this, the average global sea temperature has been abnormally warm from 2001-2007. The recent decrease in temperature has been due to La Nina. If this increase in sea surface temperature increases another 2 degrees celcius then you can kiss all your Caribbean corals goodbye, because past 29 degrees celcius they all bleach.

This is a very real and serious threat that people need to face, because if the oceans start to falter then there goes a majority of the worlds food supply.

Posted by: ConcernedStudent | January 15, 2010 8:53 PM
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This panel is based on a faulty premise. I hope everyone here reads the blog entry from the Post's Capitol Weather Gang from earlier this week.

IT HAS BEEN A WARMER THAN NORMAL DECEMBER AND JANUARY ON EARTH. PERIOD. GET YOUR NOSES OUT OF YOUR MYOPIC NAVELS AND WAKE UP, PEOPLE.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/capitalweathergang/2010/01/cold_weather_in_a_hot_climate_1.html#more

Posted by: B2O2 | January 15, 2010 7:10 PM
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It is interesting to consider the idea that a decade wherein CO2 has continued to increase, temperatures do not seem to. It would be even more interesting to see what actual data this is based on and what all of the other data sets say.

The issue in some sense is not as much about what the trend actually is (it is a topic that could be studied, further), but rather what is causing the change. Many think that CO2 is a plausible cause, but the exact dependence on CO2 is not proven. Seeing a proper proof of a claim for the exact role of CO2 would reduce the controversy substantially. The likely result is that CO2 is one contributor and probably not the most significant.

In case it can be shown that CO2 is the primary (or at least a strong) cause, it is important to note that all of the current proposals for action based on the assumption that CO2 is the primary cause do not actually reduce the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere; they merely serve to slow its increase.

With full respect for all with an interest in this topic, I feel strongly that at best the plan to deal with the topic is not sound science and even in case its premises can be sustained, a remedy will not soon be reached.

Posted by: Peter22 | January 15, 2010 6:24 PM
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This entire question is kinda silly. No reasonable person thinks a cold winter means global warming is a hoax- it's a joke. Skepticism aside, seems like the wapo is setting up a straw man here.

Posted by: ihatelogins | January 15, 2010 5:41 PM
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I have notice profound weather or climate change in California during the past few decades, which has essentially been a drought. The weather may get cool be we don't get the precipitation like we use to.

Posted by: maphound | January 15, 2010 4:35 PM
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The problem is that whether we like it or not we tend to be quite provincial.

If its cold in China, the US, and Europe then its a sign that global warming is a myth.

Don't concern yourself with the weather in South America, Africa, and Australia as well as New Zealand - because that would give you a different message: global warming is real, its speeding up, and it may be too late to avoid a disaster.

Posted by: agapn9 | January 15, 2010 3:33 PM
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Thats funny. Weather doesn't count when it doesn't support the hyped false hypothesis of Global Warming now morphed into "climate change".

I thought that the weather showed a warming trend. That is from the extremely limited amount of data over only about 100 years.

Now that these so called "scientists" don't have data that supports a warming trend, the ignorant excuses start to flow.

There is no Global Warming. CO2 from people breathing, Animal Flatulence, and SUV's is not doing anything to change the Weather or the Climate.

Weather, and Climates are intertwinned despite what these lame brained fools are saying.

The Weather and Climates around the earth change just like the seasons. CO2 doesn't cause the earth to warm and cool, the earths relationship to the Sun does.

Most of these so called scientists / global warming apologists, are still waisting money stolen from the taxpayers and citizens from around the world.

Just think what would be accomplished if they would be looking into something worthwhile like cancer research.

CAP AND TAX and Global Warming is solely a ploy to control and tax the masses. Global Warming is a complete myth.

Posted by: ignoranceisbliss | January 15, 2010 12:48 PM
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