Politics, Science Collide Over Recent Snow Storms

Scientists say weather isn't climate change, as skeptic pols make hay from snow.

February 9, 2010, 3:58 PM

Feb. 10, 2010— -- Nobody loves a snow storm like a climate-change skeptic.

As Washington, D.C., and much of the rest of the East Coast dig out from another blizzard, some politicians are using the frigid temperatures and snow-covered streets to support their claims that global warming does not exist.

Scientists, however, are quick to repudiate those comments, firing back that a few days, or even a few weeks, of inclement or cold weather in one part of the country does not disprove climate change -- a phenomenon, they say, that affects the entire planet over the course of decades.

"This conflation of weather and global climate is a classic ploy by skeptics," said Mark Serreze, a professor at the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center.

"Mother Nature doesn't care about whether you speak in loud voices, or what your political affiliation is. It just does its thing. There is always variability in weather. It's all in the science," he said.

Climate scientists say there is ample evidence that the planet is warming, and that occasional cold snaps or blizzards are blips that do not affect that overall trend.

"You cannot use a system or systems over a short period of time to describe if there is global warming. It's measured over a long, long period of time. This is a little speck in that duration," said Brian Korty, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

But science is science and politics are politics.

Conservative politicians and pundits used January's record breaking cold temperatures and last week's blizzard, which dumped two feet of snow on Washington, to argue that theories about global warming cannot be true given the evidence they see with their own eyes.

The right-leaning Washington Examiner reminded its readers on Tuesday that environmentalist and liberal icon Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote a column in 2008 in which he blamed the capital's then lack of snow on global warming.

In a Los Angeles Times column from 2008, Kennedy reminisced about being a boy and sledding with his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, and blamed oil companies for "pouring money into think tanks whose purpose is to deceive the American public into believing that global warming is a fantasy."

The Examiner said Kennedy was wrong to blame the weather on man-made climate change.

"Having shoveled my walk five times in the midst of this past weekend's extreme cold and blizzard, I think perhaps RFK, Jr. should leave weather analysis to the meteorologists instead of trying to attribute every global phenomenon to anthropogenic climate change," wrote the Examiner in an opinion piece.

The Republican Party of Virginia last week seized on the mammoth blizzard nicknamed "snowpocalypse" to attack two Democratic candidates.

In the video "12 Inches of Global Warming," posted to the Internet, the Virginia GOP mocks Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., and Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Va., for supporting cap-and-trade climate change legislation.

The video, which includes snippets from local weather reports and footage of cars covered in snow, ends with the narrator urging viewers to: "Call Boucher and Perriello and tell them how much global warming you got this weekend."

"If the Republican Party can't tell the difference between climate and weather, that's their problem," Perriello spokeswoman Jessica Barba told ABC News' Teddy Davis last week.

The weather this week dealt a blow too to government efforts to stem climate change, forcing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to cancel a press conference Monday intended to announce a new Climate Service office, which will keep the public up to date on global warming.

"More and more, Americans are witnessing the impacts of climate change in their own backyards, including sea-level rise, longer growing seasons, changes in river flows, increases in heavy downpours, earlier snowmelt and extended ice-free seasons in our waters. People are searching for relevant and timely information about these changes to inform decision-making about virtually all aspects of their lives," NOAA said in a statement.

In December, weather interfered with another government attempt to tackle climate change when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D- Calif., left the global climate summit in Copenhagen early in order to land in Washington before a storm hit.

That same week, former speaker Republican Newt Gingrich took time to deliver a short but skeptical message about weather and climate change via Twitter.

"As callista and i watched what dc weather says will be 12 to 22 inches of snow i wondered if God was sending a message about Copenhagen," Gingrich tweeted.

Over and over scientists repeat the same thing; some snow in Washington does not mean the rest of the earth is similarly cool.

"It doesn't matter what some politicians say," said National Snow and Ice Data Center's Serreze. "According to a NASA analysis, the global average temperature for 2009 is the second highest on record. The real metric is global temperature. The past decade was the warmest in the past 2,000 years."

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