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The Winter of Al Gore’s Discontent



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Glenn McCoy writes a political comic, primarily devoted it would seem to making fun of Democrats. The March 10th entry in the Kansas City Star featured the title “The Winter of Al Gore’s Discontent.” (The link is to an online copy, not a KC Star site.)

“Global Warming is here!” A fat disheveled Al Gore holds a sign in blustering snow, a snow peaked news stand displays “Record low temps,” “Arctic Ice Thickens,” “Snow in Saudi Arabia,” as a penguin observes questioning. Apparently this attitude is common, just a randomly searched web site complains “Global Warming Update: Winter 2008 Coldest in Seven Years,” and pokes fun at “liberals.”

Unfortunately this issue seems to have taken on a party related character in the minds of many. It may be that some Democrats are more willing to look at “environmental” issues. But on the issue of the new Holcomb power plant, many Kansas Democrats also signed on to legislation that will increase carbon emissions and spend money that must be paid by utility customers even if we reverse direction from carbon polluting methods of generating energy. (They apparently think that meager environmental provisions can make up for a commitment to ever expanding carbon emissions. And by the way the importance here is not just some outside “environment”, but our own way of life and even survival.)

Even more disturbing is the misunderstanding of global climate disruption exemplified by this cartoon. The IPCC points out that changes as the climate warms can include more extreme deviations. A a single colder than usual winter is completely consistent with global warming’s more extreme deviations (some times colder) and demonstrates nothing about the longer term trend. Would you believe a “poll” if it were conducted by asking only one person the question? One data point does not define a series, and one apparently cold winter does not change a long term progression of world-wide measurements.

So what does this “one data point” tell us? First we need some of the data itself, and for that a very interesting report can be found at the National Climatic Data Center, US Department of Commerce (Part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Some quotes:

“The average temperature across both the contiguous U.S. and the globe during December 2007-February 2008 (climatological boreal winter) was the coolest since 2001…”

Indeed, coldest in the last 7 years. Only the last 7 years. Note that these years were each usually the hottest on record. They continue:

“The combined global land and ocean surface temperature was the 16th warmest on record for the December 2007-February 2008 period (0.58°F/0.32°C above the 20th century mean of 53.8°F/12.1°C). The presence of a moderate-to-strong La Niña contributed to a boreal winter and February temperature that were the coolest since the La Niña episode of 2000-2001.”

Now 2007, ending of course at the end of December, was the 2nd hottest on record. Only the short overlapping period from December through February was as far down as the ”16th” warmest. That means that of the last 7 years have been among the 16 warmest ever recorded, even for the December through February segment, and the months before that 2nd hottest on record. Clearly an upward temperature trend. Very hardly a significant deviation for one period of three months in the long trend of the 20th and 21st centuries, and there is a physical explanation for even that small and most likely temporary variation.

A baseball player who was top hitter in each of several years has a bad three-month run and ends only 16th in the league. People start to say he is washed up! This is the character of people’s memory. No, Hardly, and the global warming trend has barely deviated a smidgen.

What about “Arctic Ice?”

Spencer Weart, science historian, in RealClimate.org (Climate science from climate scientists) says:

“Despite the recent announcement that the discharge from some Antarctic glaciers is accelerating, we often hear people remarking that parts of Antarctica are getting colder, and indeed the ice pack in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica has actually been getting bigger. Doesn’t this contradict the calculations that greenhouse gases are warming the globe? Not at all, because a cold Antarctica is just what calculations predict… and have predicted for the past quarter century.”

Read the entire article Antarctica is Cold? Yeah, We Knew That. Some portion of the ice is, for the moment getting thicker and/or colder, but overall the Antarctic ice is melting.

The trends are clear, at least with regard to politics: The issue remains politicized and poorly understood by those with the greatest visibility and power. Information that scientists are trying to get understood by the public so appropriate policy decisions can be made is ignored in favor of opportunities for jabs at opponent’s or anyone with a seeming contrary view.

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