Is Winter 2008 Making Climate Alarmists Question Global Warming?

For years, climate realists have been wondering how the global warming alarmists would react when the planet actually cooled, albeit for an unknown amount of time.

With the winter of 2008 ushering in record-cold temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere -- following similar, albeit mostly unreported, weather in the Southern Hemisphere's 2007 winter -- it seems the resolve of the believers has been a bit weakened, to say the least.

Take for example Sunday's New York Times article by environment reporter Andrew C. Revkin entitled "Climate Skeptics Seize on Cold Spell" (emphasis added throughout):

The world has seen some extraordinary winter conditions in both hemispheres over the past year: snow in Johannesburg last June and in Baghdad in January, Arctic sea ice returning with a vengeance after a record retreat last summer, paralyzing blizzards in China, and a sharp drop in the globe’s average temperature.

It is no wonder that some scientists, opinion writers, political operatives and other people who challenge warnings about dangerous human-caused global warming have jumped on this as a teachable moment.

[...]

According to a host of climate experts, including some who question the extent and risks of global warming, it is mostly good old-fashioned weather, along with a cold kick from the tropical Pacific Ocean, which is in its La Niña phase for a few more months, a year after it was in the opposite warm El Niño pattern.

If anything else is afoot — like some cooling related to sunspot cycles or slow shifts in ocean and atmospheric patterns that can influence temperatures — an array of scientists who have staked out differing positions on the overall threat from global warming agree that there is no way to pinpoint whether such a new force is at work.

Interesting, wouldn't you agree? Sounds almost like the position of the realists.

After all, Revkin claimed "there is no way to pinpoint whether such a new force is at work" in driving down temperatures that have been observed in the past few months. Well, realists believe there's no way to "pinpoint" what forces are responsible for the global warming trend in the past 150 years.

Sounds like common ground, doesn't it?

To better define the realist view, such scientists, meteorologists, and climatologists feel that there are many factors impacting the weather, and that, despite claims by alarmists, there is absolutely no definitive proof that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels is the primary culprit behind a slight rise in average global temperatures since 1850.

Yet, a problem arises from Revkin's "pinpoint" statement: if there's no way to determine exactly what's caused the sudden cooling that scientists have actually been able to observe the past eight months in both hemispheres, how can folks be so confident that carbon dioxide emissions have been the cause of rising temperatures that began a century before most of the alarmists were born?

Interesting conundrum, wouldn't you agree?

The good news, though, is Revkin's reference to the current La Nina which is indeed impacting temperature and moisture patterns around the globe. Such was predicted by many climate realists last year.

Now, in fairness, Revkin, as one of the saner climate alarmists in the press, has regularly written about the significance of El Ninos and La Ninas in this equation, especially the role the former played in the extreme temperatures the planet experienced in 1998.

Coincidentally, likely every climate realist worth his or her salt would attribute some responsibility to the current La Nina for the extremely cold Southern Hemisphere winter of 2007 and our up to this point cold 2008.

An interesting turn of events when alarmists and realists can agree on something, don't you think?

Yet, that wasn't the only part of Revkin's article that both sides might see eye-to-eye on:

The shifts in the extent and thickness of sea ice in the Arctic (where ice has retreated significantly in recent summers) and Antarctic (where the area of floating sea ice has grown lately) are similarly hard to attribute to particular influences.

Exactly, Andrew. In fact, virtually every climate realist would agree with this. However, that's certainly not what alarmists were saying last summer when Arctic ice plummeted to their lowest levels since satellites first began measuring them in the '70s.

Quite the contrary, Americans were subjected to hysterical news story after hysterical news story about how these ice level declines were specifically caused by global warming, and that it represented the beginning of the end of the polar ice caps with potentially cataclysmic portent.

Revkin's own paper published nineteen articles last year connecting declining Arctic sea ice to global warming or climate change. In fairness, none of these was written by Revkin, although he did contribute to one in November.

Despite the areas of common ground, there was some hypocrisy in Sunday's article:

Interviews and e-mail exchanges with half a dozen polar climate and ice experts last week produced a rough consensus: Even with the extensive refreezing of Arctic waters in the deep chill of the sunless boreal winter, the fresh-formed ice remains far thinner than the yards-thick, years-old ice that dominated the region until the 1990s.

Those fully engaged in this debate should immediately recognize a couple of problems with this statement by Revkin.

First of all, the current intermediate warming trend began in the mid-'70s. Here in America, the warmest year during this cycle was 1998, with much debate about what year was the warmest globally.

Regardless, most climate realists believe that 1998 was indeed the peak in this cycle, and that the subsequent nine years have represented at best a plateau before a potential cooling phase. If 2007-2008 is the real start of temperature declines -- which is yet to be determined -- one shouldn't expect ice levels to have returned to where they were before the warmest years in this cycle; that could take several years of cooling to occur.

Maybe more important, routine monitoring of Arctic ice levels didn't begin until 1972, with satellite examinations commencing in 1979. As such, comparing today's levels exclusively to those "that dominated the region until the 1990s" is absolutely absurd.

Revkin himself quoted scientists in his article that admonished such short-term thinking:

Michael E. Schlesinger, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, said that any focus on the last few months or years as evidence undermining the established theory that accumulating greenhouse gases are making the world warmer was, at best, a waste of time and, at worst, a harmful distraction.

Discerning a human influence on climate, he said, “involves finding a signal in a noisy background.” He added, “The only way to do this within our noisy climate system is to average over a sufficient number of years that the noise is greatly diminished, thereby revealing the signal. This means that one cannot look at any single year and know whether what one is seeing is the signal or the noise or both the signal and the noise.”

Doesn't that mean that comparing today's Arctic ice levels exclusively to those witnessed in the '80s before temperatures peaked during this intermediate warming trend is just a lot of hysterical noise that should be avoided by real scientists?

Sadly, Revkin failed to recognize this hypocrisy, or this one:

Climate skeptics typically take a few small pieces of the puzzle to debunk global warming, and ignore the whole picture that the larger science community sees by looking at all the pieces,” said Ignatius G. Rigor, a climate scientist at the Polar Science Center of the University of Washington in Seattle.

He said the argument for a growing human influence on climate laid out in last year’s reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or I.P.C.C., was supported by evidence from many fields.

I will admit that we do not have all the pieces,” Dr. Rigor said, “but as the I.P.C.C. reports, the preponderance of evidence suggests that global warming is real.” As for the Arctic, he said, “Yes, this year’s winter ice extent is higher than last year’s, but it is still lower than the long-term mean.”

Dr. Rigor said next summer’s ice retreat, despite the regrowth of thin fresh-formed ice now, could still surpass last year’s, when nearly all of the Arctic Ocean between Alaska and Siberia was open water.

Once again, folks fully engaged in this debate should immediately recognize some problems with the good doctor's views. First and foremost, this "long-term mean" is based on records that are at best 36 years old, and at worst 29.

Why do the alarmists always ignore this inconvenient truth when they talk about Arctic ice levels?

Beyond this, as previously stated, if this is the beginning of a cooling trend, it would be ridiculous to expect ice levels to have so quickly grown above their mean since monitoring began; again, this could take several years of cooling to occur.

Furthermore, Rigor said, "...next summer’s ice retreat, despite the regrowth of thin fresh-formed ice now, could still surpass last year’s." That's right. It could.

But, it might not, and that's what's scaring the heck out of the alarmists.

Alas, the hypocrisy continued:

Some scientists who strongly disagree with each other on the extent of warming coming in this century, and on what to do about it, agreed that it was important not to be tempted to overinterpret short-term swings in climate, either hot or cold.

Andrew: You mean media members and folks like Al Gore shouldn't attribute every hurricane, tornado, drought, wildfire, and heat-wave to global warming?

I completely agree.

Yet, sadly, that hasn't been the case, for in the past several years, every single thing that has occurred on this planet that can even remotely be blamed on climate change has been.

Finally:

Patrick J. Michaels, a climatologist and commentator with the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, has long chided environmentalists and the media for overstating connections between extreme weather and human-caused warming. (He is on the program at the skeptics’ conference.)

But Dr. Michaels said that those now trumpeting global cooling should beware of doing the same thing, saying that the “predictable distortion” of extreme weather “goes in both directions.”

I completely agree, Andrew. Does this mean that folks on your side of this debate should stop pointing to every extreme "warm" event as evidence of climate change?

Regardless of what Revkin's answer would be, I agree with him that it is likely too soon to declare this current cold-spell as anything more than good old-fashioned weather. However, as there are a goodly number of climate realists who predicted a La Nina would begin last year, and that it would result in a significant cooling trend, it bears watching.

In fact, many of these same folks have for years stated that 1998 would end up being the warmest year in this cycle, and that a variety of factors point to an extended period of cooling, even a mini-Ice Age. Coincidentally, while writing this piece, I received an e-mail message containing data and exhibits from an emeritus professor of geology named Don Easterbrook who claims in response to Revkin's article that we've been in a predicted cooling trend since 2002:

The average of the four main temperature measuring methods is lightly cooler since 2002 (except for a brief el Nino interuption [sic]) and record breaking cooling this winter. The argument that this is too short a time period to be meanful would be valid were it not for the fact that this cooling exactly fits the pattern of timing of warm/cool cycles over the past 400 years and was predicted.

As I have yet to go through all of his data and exhibits, I will leave his input at that for the time being, with more to follow.

To be sure, forecasts of impending global cooling are indeed just predictions at this point, and it could be years before we know their accuracy. As such, Revkin is 100 percent correct when he suggests those claiming this cold winter represents the beginning of global cooling might be jumping the gun a bit.

On the other hand, it would be nice if the alarmists, including Revkin, at least recognized this as a possibility, and advocated a halt to all mandatory, legislative global warming "solutions" until we are indeed sure that the current weather is just an anomaly in a longer-term up-cycle instead of the beginning of a cooling trend.

After all, why should billions of dollars be taken out of the economy -- at a time when it appears to be slowing -- in order to be given to government agencies to "solve" a problem that nature may at this very moment be attending to?

If the alarmists are indeed concerned about the environment rather than just using it as a means of raising tax revenues as they punish energy companies and automakers as well as gas-guzzling consumers, maybe they ought to immediately cease and desist from anymore global warming hysteria while scientists "pinpoint" what is behind this cold-spell, and just how long it's going to last.

Or, is that asking for too much sanity in the middle of a debate that has for years sorely lacked rational thought?

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.