What Happened to Global Warming?

An experienced climatologist explains how extreme winter weather may or may not be related to climate change.
By Peyton Baldwin
Feb. 29, 2008
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Global warming is probably the last thing on your mind when you’re shoveling a foot of snow off the driveway, but extreme cold is just another part of the trend.
ISTOCKPHOTO/RITA JACOBS
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Brrr, it’s cold outside! Frigid temperatures and record snowfall in many areas may leave some people wondering what happened to global warming. Given the whiter-than-normal winter, is the Earth really still heating up? 

For insight, we turned to Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate science expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has studied climate change for 17 years. Her research has stretched from the arid U.S. Southwest to icebreaker ship expeditions to the North Pole. She stays abreast of the latest science to help inform the public and policymakers. 

Q: Could colder temperatures and more snow be signs that global warming is not happening?

A: No singular weather event or even a colder year represents a change in global warming. Weather is the temperature or precipitation over a couple of days. Climate refers to the average temperature or weather patterns over a decade or more. Global warming occurs over a long period of time, therefore gradual shifts to a warmer climate represents global warming. One event, such as increased snowfall or a heat wave, will not significantly change the climate pattern from the last decade. You have to look at what has happened over time, not in the past month or two, to determine if there is general trend of warming.

Q: Could some extreme weather events signify a shift in climate patterns?

A: Yes, actually. Because the Earth is heating up, the air is warmer and more humid and evaporation occurs faster, leading to an intensification of precipitation. This means that during the winter months, in many parts of the United States, we’re more likely to experience intense snowfall and in the summer months intense rainfall. If you look at these events over a long period of time though, the total annual volume of rain may not change as significantly as it may appear. There are just more occurrences of heavy rain events. The increase in intense rain can lead to flooding and longer dry periods in between.

Q: Other than more intense precipitation, what are some indicators that global warming is actually occurring?

A: The timing of spring and fall are indicators that global warming is happening. The spring season is coming earlier and fall is happening later. This makes for a shorter winter season and a longer summer season. Other evidence includes the accelerated melting of glaciers in Greenland and West Antarctica, and the diminishing habitat for some wildlife species, placing them at risk for extinction. 

Q: Warmer temperatures could cause some species to die off?

A: Plants and animals that live near the tops of mountains can only move upslope so far before they “run out of mountain.” As sea-levels raise, roads, buildings and infrastructure could block animals and plants from moving. Animals that live their entire lifecycle on the Arctic sea/ice face grave danger because many studies indicate that in the coming decades the Arctic Ocean could become ice-free for the first time during the summer months. Additionally, decreasing water resources coupled with warmer climates makes it nearly impossible for some already threatened species to survive. 

Q: What are some ways we can stop the Earth from getting even warmer?

A: Gases trap heat and warm the atmosphere for decades or centuries after they were released into the air. Burning fossil fuels just traps more heat on Earth. Think of when you are going to bake cookies. You have to preheat the oven, so you turn the oven to whatever temperature the recipe calls for and wait for the oven to warm up. For awhile now, the Earth has been preheating. The oceans have acted as a buffer, so the Earth has not yet reached that preheating temperature. Meanwhile, we are continuing to increase the temperature dial on the oven. We are preheating the Earth to an even higher temperature. We have evidence that we are going to see more changes because of this. The ice will continue to melt in the Arctic and Antarctica, and we will experience warmer temperatures year round. We can stop the Earth from heating to very dangerous levels if we successfully harness renewable fuel like solar or wind power and decrease our use of fossil fuels.

At the Union of Concerned Scientists Web site, you can learn much more about global warming, including easy to understand reports on the latest research from the world’s leading scientists. You also can easily take action and tell Congress to support renewable energy, low carbon fuels and other proactive measures.


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robertdotjohnson
11/29/2010 12:51:16 AM
An educated public is esential to democracy; http://climate.noaa.gov/index.jsp?pg=/education/edu_index.jsp&edu=literacy

John Swanson_2
4/11/2010 2:28:33 AM
They just never quit do they, Global warming, it all leads to the same story, less humans on the earth, did these people who continue to believe global warming is a problem and CO2 is a deadly gas ever go to school? Do they realize every living being emits CO2, the plants thrive on it, it is not a poison. They just keep pushing their agenda, and Mother Earth News just keeps playing the game, MEN could you please just stick to what made you famous in the 70's and 80's with your magazine and drop the political agenda, I guess that explains why MEN subscription rates have gone way down, if you would stick to gardening, building stuff, etc. and leave the political agenda out of your magazine I know your subscribers would go up, fire whoever is in charge of setting the agenda of your magazine, it's killing it, I use to subscribe until it went political. Leave the global warming garbage to AL Gore and his crew of scientists that manipulate the figures and leave real science out of it, let sleeping dogs lie.

MC_2
1/18/2010 10:56:56 AM
I'm not a climatologist or anything. I'm a hillbilly. I think climate change is happening, because it seems to me that I can see it with my own eyes, in my own yard. I don't know why it's happening... ...and I've come to the conclusion that I don't really care. We should not need a global crisis of epic proportions to prompt us to seek out, develop, and use the cleanest and most readily renewable sources of energy (or materials) available. Climate change??? One trip to a West Virginia strip mine was enough to make a renewable-energy believer out of me-- and my daddy was a miner, thus I knew I depended on the mines for my bread. Why are we arguing about this??? Why are we letting investors and politicians dream up ways to profit from it??? Why is a profit motive necessary to get anything done??? I think these are the questions we really need to be asking. Instead we choose to chase our tails while, one way or another, our "leaders" steal the shirts off our backs. Divide and conquer. The revolution has been postponed while we argue the merits of Browning vs. Smith and Wesson.

Will_15
1/14/2010 6:18:01 PM
Oh yeah. One more thing. It was like a Friday in the cambrian period a bizzilion years ago and like it was hot. But there was this Thursday a few million years after that and it was cold. But we don't know why, but humans weren't around and like now sometimes Fridays are hot and Thursdays are cold, so like we have nothing to do with that and like so climate change is natural and stuff.

Will_15
1/14/2010 6:05:56 PM
And those indians burning trees. Lots of CO2. And volcanoes, man. They put like 150 million tons of carbon in the atmosphere every year. We puny humans only put 30 billion tons in the atmosphere annually. Like how can we change the planet. Don't like forget the acid rain hoax and the rubbish about DDT being bad for the birds and so what about mercury in the water--I don't eat fish. And remember there is global warming on Pluto. And if we didn't cause it there, we can't have done it here. And I am an electrician, so I know bad plumbing when I see it. Peace to ya all. Got split and go to a Flat Earth meeting...

Will_15
1/14/2010 5:52:01 PM
Yes, it is an environmental hoax. The U.S. government has spent $79 billion dollars on climate research since 1989. That is 7.9 billion annually. This is an out rage!! Last year, OPEC earned a mare $573 billion in net oil export revenues, a 41 percent decrease from 2008. How can oil interests out spend those pesky environmentalist. And what about those missing sun spots!! Unreal. It couldn't be a solar minimum? Funny that. And I did not know Al Gore worked for NASA and was able to tamper with climate data. Still, as we know, C02 FOLLOWS temperature--put CO2 in a bottle and heat it up and, hey presto, you get more CO2. And the aliens, don't forget that they are like beaming rays at us making eat ourselves. We need tin foil hats. And the carbon credit thing. Never work. That would be based on the principles of capitalism and it is making that uber-capitalist, Al Gore, billions. DOWN WITH THE FREE MARKET. And that Discovery program about the scientist and the ice age thing. I remember that. That was in the 70s when the Discovery channel didn't exist! And yeah, the mother nature girl. Always changin the climate and there can only be a single cause for anything. I can't wait for us AGW dudes to actually find a natural cause to the increase in temps. Oh yeah, it is the solar thing. When the sun goes into a solar maximum, the planet gets hotter. When the sun goes into a solar minimum, like now, the planet gets hotter. Easy.

doninvest@rocketmail.com_1
1/14/2010 10:37:51 AM
Union for concerned scientists? Ms Ekwurzel has a job fomenting fear amongst the illiterate masses with unproven hype. This is all a big money maker for those who would take from the poor and place in their own pockets the hard earned money of anyone who listens to the popular media, "Got solar activity"?

davisonh
1/11/2010 8:00:47 PM
It's not really a 'hoax' per se,it's a fact that been perverted to fund a groups' cause,which is perfectly fine,we live in a democratic society so all POV's should be heard.But c'mon all lets use some common sense.Does anyone know what happened to the forests in California,Oregon,Washington,Idaho 3,000-5000 years ago,before modern man existed?They burned.Yes they burned,uncontrollably,wildfires the size of the state of Montana were not uncommon.They burned in the prairie,in the Northeast,Southeast,everywhere.The amount of CO2 released by such natural activity is enormous,far more than the average city puts out in a year and such CO2 is released and either used up by living plant matter,dissolved into the oceans or locked up in limestone.Civilization does not let fires of that magnitude happen anymore and should not,we have technology that takes care of issues as that.Again,issues of scale come into play again here.

Bob Braafhart
1/11/2010 4:24:21 PM
Is Global warming occurring? I have heard "expert" opinions on either sides. Some that seem to have just jumped on a wagon and are out to justify which ever direction they are leaning. With that said, I feel we do need to change our sources of energy to most if not all renewable sources. One reason would be for the future of our children and for other developing nations. But the main reason is that I hate pouring money into countries that hate us and everything our "developed society" stands for. I would love to see the "magic carpet" (petroleum revenues) pulled from underneath these places. Sooner or later many countries will have to choose sides based on their need for energy unless they are able to harvest their energy from sun, wind and rain. I don't lean this way because it is politically correct or because of my friends but just because it simply makes sense.

Chiron
1/9/2010 6:04:08 PM
Is "Climate Change" occuring? Yes. Did we cause it? No. Why is it changing? It is just natural. From about 160 thousand years ago to 18 thousand years ago we were in the Pleistocene era. During that time the temperature was -2 to -4 deg from our current temp. The era was very dry and cold with huge glaical activity. The only warm time was during the Eemian interglacial, a short time of warmth +1 to +2 for about 8 thousand years. Now we come to the last 18 thousand years ago to now, we know it as the Holocene. When the Holocene ends we will go back to the ice ages. Its a natural cycle. What about global warming? Well yes we are in a warming cycle between ice ages, we have nothing to do with it. What about green house gases that the media says is making the earth warm? Well yes it does, but not anything to do with our emissions. You see the department of energy does not show water vapor. Total contribution of humanity towards "greenhouse" effect is actually .28%. But the media doesn't include this information as it does not make for exciting TV and thus profit from advertising. Why we should be looking for alternative energy if its not to reduce global warming? Because we need reduce the 600 million dollars a day we are sending to oil producing countries. One, we should be keeping the money and two, most of the countries we send the dollars to want to kill us.

tuckermaclain_2
1/6/2010 11:20:10 AM
The whole CO2 greenhouse gas as a cause for warming has been pretty much tanked. Actual data (not made up massaged Al Gore-approved data) show CO2 increases FOLLOW temperature increases. This suggests that CO2 levels increase when surface temp increases. Sounds logical because it is. My opinion should be as valid as any PhD clown that measures snow and massages data. I have an MD with many years of post-doctoral training and have studied more natural sciences than most "climatologists." I recognize bad research when I see it and this stinks of it. The funny thing is that the hoax is good for many groups. Environmentalists can get restrictions for development. Even lay-people at "Mother Earth" can make up childish invalid analogies about preheating ovens. As long as the message is consistent it will be assumed to be correct. Al Gore can make billions off his carbon exchange. Governments could literally tax you for breathing too much and fleece their populations of every bit of wealth in existence and dole it out to potential voters to keep themselves in office and increase their power. Crooked scientists who provide them with the data are guaranteed continued funding. Everybody gets a piece of a huge new pie that the citizenry is being sold as a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. A very large reallocation of taxpayer wealth. Look to see who could benefit from this hoax and you will accurately predict who is proclaiming it as gospel.

Kidd57_2
2/9/2009 9:18:14 PM
There's really not much left to say. I agree "global warming" is a hoax to fleece a lot of passionate people out of their money. I wish they could turn that passion toward real answers for real problems - like preserving their own freedom for their children and grand children... provided they haven't aborted them already.

gerry_1
1/31/2009 1:17:16 PM
If "offensive materials ... will be removed," why are all these negative comments still here? Everything is offensive to someone. My big question on this subject is, "What are we doing to cause global warming ... on Mars and Jupiter?????"

Michael_6
1/30/2009 6:18:46 AM
...continued towards the bankers goals of total enslavement of the populations of the world. Mother Earth, keep to what you know. I want more info on how to build a cheap house, raise chickens, create compost, and less on politics and science which you evidently know nothing about. And while you're at it... promote legalization of Marijuana. You want a natural substance that you can make paper with without polluting our water? Make plastics with without using petroleum? Feed the world with one of the most highly nutritious seeds? Build our houses with instead of cutting down trees? Clothe ourselves without unnatural fibers? Run our vehicles? These are all things you can do with Hemp which is RENEWABLE! It is truly a miracle plant. Get your priorities straight!

Michael_6
1/30/2009 6:06:29 AM
I think it funny that these "Pro" global warming ideologues conveniently forget about many of the contrary FACTS! For instance, the sun has been unusually active in the past years, to the point that the flares have been so large they have surpassed the X-class status. Then, recently there has been no sun spot activity... which is truly strange and unexplainable. They also forget to mention that this "oh so awful" gas called Carbon Dioxide actually HELPS plants grow, meaning more plants, more oxygen, and on down the line. Oh gee, I guess we need a new tax on our breathing to! And these same people promote eugenics, err I mean population control too, right in line with Margaret Sanger. All of these theories are b.s., and in line with Nazi propaganda. And as far as our destroying our forests... yes there are areas that are being destroyed due to pollution (just look at the Smokey Mtns), and vast stretches being decimated by urban sprawl and parking lots, but at the same time, there are areas (North-Eastern USA for example) that were at one time barren, but are now complete wilderness. The fact is that when societies industrialize or other such productive activities, their population reduces. It isn't the US or any other western society that is causing the population increase, its the poor impoverished nations, and that's because the IMF blackmails them and forces them to give up their natural resources for the global bankers pocketbooks, which limits their enlightenment, and continues with their population explosions. These scare mongers have fallen right in line with the CFR's propaganda instead of dealing with the REAL issues like all the pollution from... everything. Corporate farms, Monsanto, nuclear waste, mercury in the new light bulbs, bleach and other waste in our water and streams, etc, etc, etc. The REAL issues get put to the wayside while these ideologues keep promoting junk science and pushing us towards the bankers goals

Robert Bullard_2
1/28/2009 7:11:10 PM
We know man can effect his environment some of the first studies of the rain-forest destruction has been found to cause global warming. And we must consider the asphalt parking lots and roads along with reflective roofing to have much greater effect on our environment. The study for refrigerant recovery license ozone layer has become depleted by excessive ultraviolet radiation passing through the atmosphere. We have been trying to decrease the pollution (both man made and natural) now it is time to work on the other cause also. the radiation from the sun is beyond our control but the reflected radiation can be reduced. I do not expect much help from Walmart to change their parking lots to grass but grass and tree will recover the land after we are gone a few 100 yrs. we could try a product called cool-deck used around pools. Thanks for reading this.

Mike Brines
1/28/2009 8:30:32 AM
The sky is falling! Oh-someone already said that. Why is it that people relish gloom and doom? Is it that they are not getting the following in their path that they want? Just tell someone whatever you can make up and there will be a great stir. Why is it that people don't want to know the truth? They would rather hear that the earth is going to end than to hear that they have been listening to a hoax. Case in point-climate change. The Russians are drilling in the ice up north and have a record of 40,000 years of climate change. And guess what? There was warming and cooling 40,000 years ago. It is egotistical to think that our puny suv's and carbon dioxide emitting population could have such a great effect on our weather. But the sun can. And scientists are increasingly seeing that that is just what is happening. The intensity of the solar storms is what causes swings in our weather, the warming and cooling trends. And there have been other evidences also. Not too long ago I saw a piece on Discovery where a scientist was showing the layers of earth on a cliff side and through analysis could tell that there had been cycles of warmin and cooling. I think it was when we were being told that there was an ice age coming. And this subject of population control is over the top. I would like to ask those that are proletysing that if they would like to not have been born. What's next? To suggest that people commit suicide for the greater good?

David Brockett
1/16/2009 6:35:34 PM
Hmmmm...I'm calling bullsh*t on this one! Interviewing someone who has been getting grant money for the last seventeen years to establish global warming as a reality and who is a member of an organization that relies on scaring people into contributing money is not exactly an impartial source. For every article supporting global warming...wait!!1.."climate change"..there is one by some other scientific group debunking it. We went from the seventies when we were told to watch out for the coming ice age to this new millenium claptrap based on flawed computer models. I will compare my carbon footprint over the past thirty years with any Mother-Earthers and come out ahead of most but I am getting more than weary of reading this pseudo-science chicken-little armageddon horse manure.

Dakota_2
12/23/2008 2:24:18 PM
The global warming hoax continues! Who cares if we've seen a decrease in global temperatures over the last decade! The cult of global warming will not tolerate any blasphemers! It is immoral to question the junk science behind the climate change curtain!








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