Brr. What happened to global warming?

Freezing temperatures are damaging oranges in Florida. In the UK they’re canceling soccer games because the pitches are frozen. New England is seeing record snowfall.

“So much for global warming” quipped a friend (who should know better), with that look that says *I’m making a joke, but I’m also beginning to wonder…* Uh oh.

It’s tempting to point out that global warming doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s always going to be warmer. It’s why many of us prefer the term “climate change”, after all. Yes, global average temperatures are moving upwards, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always going to be warmer everywhere, just more volatile.

But actually this current cold spell has nothing to do with climate change. Apparently it’s caused by *Arctic oscillation*: higher than average pressure over the Arctic is pushing cold air further south than is usual in the winter.

Dr. Walter Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado tells the New York Times that while we’re freezing here, it’s been much warmer than normal in the Arctic, as high as 15 degrees above average. It “probably roughly cancels out,” Dr Meier says.

There’s no shortage of blogs (I don’t want to give them link credit) that have seized on the cold snap (picture credit to one of them) and used it to discredit global warming. Meanwhile, the denier-supporting media has even managed to back up a claim that we’re in for 30 years of cooling. (The scientist didn’t actually say that.)

Nobody seems very clear on when an Arctic oscillation is likely to happen, or why. What does seem clear however, is that it’s unrelated to global warming. Or cooling. It’s happened before and will happen again. Tell your friends — you never know who might be having their doubts.

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pete

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  1. lee - January 13, 2010

    the past two or three years have been colder earlier in the fall & lasted longer in to spring. last year we had no summer at all (cold & rainy) the past two years i have used 50%more wood & oil to heat with. i would welcome some warming..

  2. lee - January 13, 2010

    the past two or three years have been colder earlier in the fall & lasted longer in to spring. last year we had no summer at all (cold & rainy) the past two years i have used 50%more wood & oil to heat with. i would welcome some warming..

  3. Doug Weller - January 13, 2010

    Global warming would almost certainly mean that Britain and Ireland would have a much colder climate due to the lost of the Gulf Streem – they are as far north as Newfoundland.

  4. Craig Laughlin - January 13, 2010

    Wouldn’t the most accurate description of what is hapening be “Global Climate Disruption”? “Climate Change” doesn’t really get at the seriousness of the problem.

  5. Jesse - January 13, 2010

    I wish I could find a link, but I have seen polling numbers that show “belief” in climate change science varies measurably with the temperature at the time the poll is taken.

  6. Phoenix Woman - January 13, 2010

    “Global warming would almost certainly mean that Britain and Ireland would have a much colder climate due to the lost of the Gulf Stream – they are as far north as Newfoundland.”
    Exactly. The ice cap sitting atop Greenland is what put the kink in the Gulf Stream that directed its flow northward, towards the UK and Scandinavia. When that cap goes, England, Scotland and Ireland will be very much like Newfoundland, and southern Spain and northern Africa — which will get a bigger dose of the Gulf Stream as it starts flowing in a more southerly direction — will likely be hotter and wetter. More on this here: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Greenland/greenland_sidebar.php

  7. dave in kentucky - January 13, 2010

    polling numbers only show who is listening, doesn’t even say what camp they’re from. I told my daddy once, as he was educating me, that if I needed my phone fixed, I would call him ( he spent 43 years with the phone company), and if I needed marriage advice, I’d call someone who had gotten educated in that area, dealt with it day in and out, and had statistical and other data to advise from. Now what value are polls unless they come from experts, oh, that’s right the experts say there is a bad change coming. One more thing, not many politicians are experts unless it’s about getting elected and spending pork barrels of lobbyist dollars

  8. lee - January 13, 2010

    What is happening is the same thing that has been happening since the earth was formed I doubt that man has caused much of a difference.It does not hurt to clean up emissions for our health’s sake ..However I might add the largest polluters are in Asia &They will not want to bear the cost of clean emissions………lee f.

  9. Tim - January 13, 2010

    Well, Lee, the actual numbers should dispel your doubts. There’s no real question from independent analysts that man is accelerating, and increasing, the natural cycle.
    As to the note about Asia, I’d point out first that it’s the same argument you make to the trooper that stops you while a dozen other cars speed by. It doesn’t work in that situation either. But more significantly, all reductions help, and unless we’re doing all we can, we cannot possibly argue that Asia should do it’s share. I’m reminded of the adage: “think globally, act locally.”

  10. Anonymous - January 13, 2010

    Yes the earth has always taken these types of turns. Only the uneducated or those who are not listening would say other wise. Mankind has made problems but is not the whole cause. But as my father used to say, “don’t crap in your own back yard”. Not very elegant but very true. The earth is our back yard. The US started out as a polluter while emerging, continues in but in much less ways and who can blame China for wanting to emerge in the same way? At least they are considering eco friendly ways and using them where they can easily find ways of doing it. Give them a way to get rid of coal that gives them jobs and is cheap and can be put in place over a very large country. I bet they do it then. But doesn’t that sound just like what this country wants too? At least I do….

  11. Anonymous - January 13, 2010

    I don’t believe that for a minute nor due I want to be part of a “GLOBAL COMMUNITY”Proud to be a Individual & American

  12. RMR - January 13, 2010

    The earth has been far warmer than now. The earth has been much colder than now. Glaciers have been receding since they carved out the great lakes.It is arrogant to a.) think this is the ideal climate and b.) Climate change is caused by man.
    Should we study it? Absolutely! But the whole AGW maovement is a hoax based on junk science to make a few rich and control the masses. It’s lunacy.

  13. lee - January 13, 2010

    I agree with anonymous …10……..lee f.

  14. lee - January 13, 2010

    RMR is 100% right

  15. Dave - January 13, 2010

    Just because the Earth’s climate was once warmer or colder than it is now (or will be) does not mean that man has no effect on climate.
    World wide, there is over 4 tons of CO2 emitted for each person on earth. Or about 28 gigatons of CO2 emissions each year spewed into the atmosphere.
    That’s a LOT!

  16. Doug Weller - January 13, 2010

    Anonymous can’t escape being part of a global community (which is made up of billions of individuals) unless he is completely self-sufficient (which includes water and air).

  17. dave in kentucky - January 13, 2010

    the movie has alot to do with running over somebody you don’t agree with, global warming has to do with how much damage we have caused, this is just the latest possible damage, insecticides, acid-rain,
    deforestation, water rights, etc etc. It seems as soon as a people outgrow their own resources they crap on the little people, or if they come up with a good thing, they over do it, until it grabs them by the butt. Our energy and other resources are not unlimited.
    Boy, I hope those darn scientists don’t get rich on all this climate change hokum. Those old ice cores must have been tampered with.

  18. jeremy - January 13, 2010

    “Wouldn’t the most accurate description of what is happening be “Global Climate Disruption”? “Climate Change” doesn’t really get at the seriousness of the problem.”
    I like this. I think some of the problems of acceptance and understanding of the global climate disruption problem among the public is purely based on way this term has entered the lexicon.
    Media sources such as Terrapass should be leading the way by choosing a new term for climate change, one that more clearly describes the problem. Perhaps that would be one subtle yet effective way to change people’s perceptions.

  19. Ryan - January 13, 2010

    I have said it before and I will say it again for those of you out there waiting for “fire and brimstone” the time to act is now even if you think its cold do you really want to be wrong if you think global warming is being faked. Let me tell you the consequences are far more dyer if the deniers are wrong.

  20. Ryan - January 13, 2010

    @Jeremy
    “Humans screwing planet” seems about right to me…

  21. Ralph Wheeler - January 13, 2010

    The average temperature of the entire earth changes very little and slowly. When one area is experiencing above or below normal temperatures, then another are is experiencing the opposite.

  22. Foggy - January 13, 2010

    Remember when you say not everyone else is freezing their toes off, don’t use countries in the Southern Hemisphare at an example, they are in Summer. I like of growing number of people who are hedging our bets on Global Warming as data is out there that we may be on the verge of a light to moderate Ice Age which might be Mother Nature’s way of extinguishing Global Warming.

  23. Ryan - January 13, 2010

    The UN Scientists have said that any cooling is as a result of natural cycles slowing our overall effect on the environment not negating it.
    People who live only in the moment take it as a sign that Climatologists and concerned citizens are wrong about Climate Change but this is flawed as it fails to take into account that what is true today may or may not in fact be true tomorrow or some day after that.
    In fact modeling is relatively consistent for years into the future the skeptics however seize on given fragments of data from moments in time that suit their arguments. They ignore or flagrantly discount trends that are almost always counter to their arguments.

  24. Greg Tolman - January 13, 2010

    Scientists are steeped in a culture of skepticism and doubt, so that new theories are always subjected to rigorous debate and attempts by other scientists to find mistakes and flaws. The idea that the rapid release of greenhouse gases during the industrial age has begun to heat the atmosphere is no different. It has been gradually gaining adherents from various fields since its inception, as study after careful peer-reviewed study, from many different scientific fields, has contributed to the growing certainty that the phenomenon is real, that it is here now, and that if left unchecked it will set in motion numerous positive-feedback processes that will rapidly make our world a very different place.
    In response to the often-heard statement that the world has at various times been much hotter or much colder than now, and that the current phenomenon is no different, it is important to understand that the critical property, from a biological perspective, is the speed of the changes that we have precipitated. Biological communities can and do evolve and adapt to changing conditions. But if the changes outpace various species abilities to adapt and evolve, then those species begin to disappear. Each vanished species rends that fabric of its former ecosystem, as other species now must adapt not only to the underlying changes in climate conditions but to the loss of a food source, a key player in their reproductive cycle, a means of population control, etc. The current climate disruption is VERY abrupt, taking place largely within a couple of centuries. Yes there have been similarly abrupt disruptions before, and they have led to mass extinctions, often defining the boundaries between geological ages.
    Is it OK that we humans seem to be setting in motion another such mass extinction, just at the moment that some of us are beginning to understand our place in this living world?
    I personally do not think it is OK.

  25. Sara S. - January 13, 2010

    Unfortunately, the naysayers will not accept that ice caps are melting until Manhattan is underwater. Which might just happen.

  26. Ryan - January 13, 2010

    Excellent point Sara, average temperature in the Arctic are 15 degrees Celsuis higher than normal and it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

  27. RMR - January 14, 2010

    So many people rushing to feel guilty based on so little data! The fact that global temeratures have risen an ESTIMATED .75 deg F in the last 150 years is statistically insugnificant. It is like extrapolating from a single data point. When you have to pluck on peoples heart strings by using the cute fuzzy polar bear (whose population is soaring) to symbolize AGW which is trying to be a scientific argument, the old BS alarm should go off big time.

  28. Ryan - January 14, 2010

    Sorry your comment is rejected based on your inability to spell words in the English language.
    Your assertion is rejected because it relies on data that you pulled out of thin air. Polar populations are declining due to loss of habitat in the Arctic. I do not know of any scientists out there no professing a belief that Arctic Sea Ice is increasing. Whether you think Anthropogenic Global Warming or more appropriately Climate Change is real something is in fact melting the ice in the Arctic. The most frequently heard argument from from AGW/ACC skeptics is that the Earths crust is heating and or ground temperatures are heating due to solar flares.
    Please go back to Kindergarten and learn what you did not obviously learn the first time. Be right before you open your mouth or in this case lay fingers to a keyboard.

  29. gatcheson - January 14, 2010

    more accurate, but my favorite term I read in Friedman’s column in the nytimes: “global wierding”

  30. gatcheson - January 14, 2010

    I think think this is an ideal climate. Maybe that makes me arrogant as you say, but I am on the side of *not* melting ice caps, raising sea levels, stronger hurricanes, and general weather unpredictability.

  31. Stormy Norm - January 14, 2010

    I’m not a scientist but logic does apply when explaining the current unusual colder climates attributed to the effect of the melting of the polar ice caps and the temporary cooling of ocean waters. If the polar ice caps eventually melt away over time, the winds cooling effect would no longer apply.
    Right now we are having record high temperature in Washington State for January. I like to call Washington the “opposite weather state”. Usually, because of the prevailing jet streams that effect our weather, it is cloudy and damp most of the days of the year (thanks to our rain forest) but when we have sunny clear skies it is usually raining cats and dogs elsewhere. When we have snow fall, there are record highs and droughts elsewhere. Basically, a global climate balancing effect. Even with the cooling by the wind, once the heat overtakes the cold the balancing effect can no longer take place.

  32. Kathy Ritscher - January 16, 2010

    ‘In response to the often-heard statement that the world has at various times been much hotter or much colder than now, and that the current phenomenon is no different, it is important to understand that the critical property, from a biological perspective, is the speed of the changes that we have precipitated.’
    I don’t think the Wooly Mammoths would agree about the speed since a lot of them froze solid with food still in their mouths. And not that long ago in Earth age.
    However, I still believe in being Stewards of the Land. We need to take care that we tread lightly, and leave behind a cleaner place than we found it.
    Differences of opinions will go on as they always have, but that should never give way for permission to mess things up; personally, locally or globally.

  33. geciktirici - January 17, 2010

    Right now we are having record high temperature in Washington State for January. I like to call geciktirici Washington the “opposite weather state”. Usually, because of the prevailing jet streams that effect our weather, it is cloudy and damp most of the days of the year

  34. Ryan - January 17, 2010

    It is currently 10

  35. RMR - January 18, 2010

    Check-out Cryosphere.edu for a record sea ice for the last 30 years. It goes back to approx.1980. It shows seasonly driven expansion and contraction of sea ice with little, if any, variation in over-all magnitudes.

  36. Michael - January 19, 2010

    Well now, some interesting observations. One must take into consideration a not so secret secret about China. Their goal is world domination, not militarily but economically and they achieve it be keeping the value of their currency low, artificially. On an Interview with a person from the BBC the Chinese representive to some meeting, maybe Copenhagen, made it perfectly clear that they expect the western countries like France, Great Britian the United States and so on to pay the full cost of mitigating any green house gasses effects and all mitigatin for climate change. They will continue to pollute at will and then expect the developed countries to simply hand over all the necessary technology to solve the problem, for free.
    In the mean while it is in our own best, selfish interest to do all that we can to wean ourselves off forgein sources of energy and use what we do have as efficitnly as possible. It isn’t a panecea, there are none, magic bullets are only in fairy tales and movies.
    Change is happening now, all one has to do is look around. As an example drive the I-70 corridor from its origin in Utah to the Colorado-Kansas line. Take time to drive through some of the towns and look at what you can see even from the roadway. Solar panels are popping up like toadstools after a rain storm. The city of Rifle has a 1.4 megawatt array in place, the largest currently allowed by Colorado law, and is petitioning for permission to install more. The people are leading and the legislators in DC are, just like they were with clean air so many years ago, following.
    The United states is the nation of innovation. The first Steamshovel was patented in the U.S. in 1832. Think of the cotton gin, american, Mr. Singer, American(?), Thomas Edison, Alexander Bell, which country invented the trasnistor, the intigrated cirucit chip and the list goes on.
    As for drilling our way to independance. Well the USGS and the Energy Information Agency point out that the US, with some 6% of the total world population consumes nearly 25% of the energy consummed in the world and we only have 5% or less of the worlds known reserves of oil. I would also observe that we have been going to drill our way to energy independence under every president since Nixon and the first oil embargo in the early 1970′s. Despite thousands and thousands of wells drilled in the intervening years we aren’t there yet.
    Climate change is real and has been happening for millions of years. That fact is confirmed daily by paleontologists and archaeologists. Milutin Milankovitch spent a lifetime developing an equation that captures some of the factors involved. What is unknown is how our anthprogenic emissions play out in the equation.
    In the meantime the boat is slowly taking on water, so to speak, do we continue to agrue over how to arrange the deck chairs or should be see if we can find the leak and patch it?