The Snowpocolypse Is Lousy Proof That Nothing Has Changed

I have no interest in wading into the global warming debate, and for purposes of this blog (or at least this post) I am happy to remain entirely agnostic as to whether its happening or what the causes would be. The whole “yes it’s real” “no it’s not” “is too!” “is not!” discussion just doesn’t appeal to me.

That said, I find one argument that is commonly advanced by climate change skeptics to be about a hundred times more aggravating than any other argument made by either side of the issue. And that is the “gee, it’s cold out there, so much for global warming!” meme.

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) shared the following deep thought with the world today, via Twitter:

First, the joke is very plainly not funny any more. If Global Warming Is Real Then Why Is It Cold offers a collection of a few hundred or so political cartoons containing variations on the same tired theme. Oh, and, DeMint? Senator Jim Inhofe already beat you to it, and at least his take is marginally more clever.

But second, and more importantly, much like the beliefs of creationists and anti-vaxxers, the belief that an unprecedentedly cold winter disproves some form rapid global temperature change is so asinine, it feels almost like a personal affront that anyone could believe something so stupid. Weather is the stereotypical example of a complex system; we are not yet capable of predicting with any long rage accuracy the effects of one weather system on another. To take the most common example, we know that El Niño, for instance, can cause Canada to be drier, South America to be rainier, the northern part of the U.S, and the Southeastern states to be colder. A single weather input can cause a wide variation in weather outputs elsewhere in the world — we wouldn’t expect to see a uniform, unidirectional change.

This may in itself be an argument against the reliability of any research on the long term effects of global warming, but its even more of a reason to discard the idea that an extreme and unprecedented weather event is an indication that things are business as usual with the world’s climate.