Environmentalists Say Cold December Temperatures Could Provide ‘Lesson’ About Global Warming

January 12, 2010 - 6:58 PM
The "cold winter" could teach people a "lesson" about global warming -- that "weather and climate aren't the same thing," environmentalists told l CNSNews.com Tuesday. 

Polar bear in Arctic. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – (EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the Natural Resources Defense Council and the the National Wildlife Federation.) December was one of the coldest on record, but that does not undercut the science on global warming, which is “settled,” according to representatives from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). 
 
NRDC Director of Government Affairs David Goldston told CNSNews.com Tuesday that the “cold winter”  weather could teach people a lesson about global warming -- that “weather and climate aren’t the same thing.”
 
Goldston made the comment at a telephone news conference call previewing the upcoming legislative debate on multiple bills in the United States Senate designed to force dramatic reductions in carbon emissions.
 
During the call, CNSNews.com asked about the cold snap that has stricken the nation in the past month -- and how it might affect the political debate over whether to cap carbon emissions:
 
Stating as background that “NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) reported (Monday) that the average temperature in December was 30.2 degrees Fahrenheit, which was 3.2 degrees cooler than the 20th century average and the 14th coolest December in 115 years,” CNSNews.com asked: “How do you guys and Congress square that kind of data with the public as you move forward in advocating for pollution caps?”

Goldston responded: “I mean, I don’t think the big -- the biggest problem in the Senate at this point is people who don’t think that climate change is real, so I mean, I think, if the cold winter gives us another chance to explain that weather and climate aren’t the same thing, that’s good from an educational point of view.”  

He clarified, though, that he thought that the global warming theory was widely settled.

“But I don’t think this is the real problem we’ve got anymore,” Goldston said. “I think, happily, we’ve moved somewhat beyond that. “

Jeremy Symons, senior vice president at NWF, also said the cold December did nothing to change what he said were the facts of global warming.  
 
“I haven’t seen the NOAA data, but in general terms, you’re asking about how the cold December affects the politics. I would just say, you know, the science has always been clear that there are, you know, you don’t --global warming isn’t going to all of a sudden create a constant climate. There will always be regional and day-to-day variability,” Symons said.
 
Symons used a recent editorial he had read to liken the difference between weather and climate to the difference between winning one football game and having a winning season. 
 
"There was actually a op-ed written in North Carolina just a couple days ago that likened the -- likened the issue of  trying to compare -- trying to say that global warming isn’t a concern because of briefly cold weather to a football team winning a surprise upset in a football game. You never know what’s going to happen game-to-game. Anybody can beat anybody, but to have, a winning season, and to go all the way to the Super Bowl -- that’s a different beast.

"And I think the same thing is true in weather. Month to month, you can have variations and,  you know, place to place you can have variation, but the long-term trend is clear and what NOAA says, long-term, is that this is the warmest decade that we’ve ever had on record. The oceans this summer were warmer than they’ve ever been, and the ice in the Arctic cap -- ice caps are melting at an alarming rate. And there is just widespread evidence that it’s a real issue," he said.

The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Colorado reported this week that Arctic sea ice had grown by 26 percent between September 2009 and its low-point in September 2007, an increase of 1.06 million square kilometers of ice.
 
Despite that, scientists still point out that the total measurement of 5.36 million square kilometers is among the five lowest since record keeping began in 1976, expecting continued warming and even the total disappearance of Arctic ice in the summers.
 
When the center released its numbers in October, NSIDC Director and Senior Scientist Mark Serreze said in a statement, “It’s nice to see a little recovery over the past couple years, but there’s no reason to think that we’re headed back to conditions seen back in the 1970s. We still expect to see ice-free summers sometime in the next few decades.”
 
Global warming skeptics, meanwhile, say that there have been several significant swings in temperature since the last Ice Age, more than 20,000 years ago -- due primarily to sun-spots or sun –related activity and its effects on Earth’s atmosphere.
 
A hot period that occurred around 8,000 years ago was followed by a long cooling period, followed by a period known as the "Roman Warming," which occurred during the Roman Empire. Following a cooling period during the Dark Ages, the "Mediaeval Warming" period began, with evidence that temperatures were hotter than they are today.
 
Around 1300, the period known as the "Little Ice Age" began -- an epoch that lasted more than 200 years, before a new warming period -- the "Modern Warming" -- began.
 
Between 1940 and 1975, climatologists say another colder period, known as the "Little Cooling," took place, and in the late 1970s, things began to warm again.
 
Cap-and-Trade or Cap-and-Penalize
 
The Senate, meanwhile, faces competing plans that have been introduced to dramatically curb carbon emissions -- and theoretically affect “global warming” -- as well to invest in the so-called “clean energy” sector.
 
Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) have introduced the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, which seeks to reduce carbon emissions 83 percent by 2050, by creating a system of carbon “credits” that energy providers and other companies would have to purchase from the government.
 
Another bill, the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal (CLEAR) Act, sponsored by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), would instead see all the carbon credits auctioned off to fuel producers, who in turn would raise prices. Proceeds from the auction would then be returned to low-income Americans as energy rebates to offset the price increases induced.

Both bills, however, may face an uphill battle to passage, as Democrats embark on an election year having already spent considerable political capital in passing health-care reform bills in both houses of Congress.
 
As a result, Kerry has also begun talks with Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to produce a bipartisan compromise capable of garnering the 60 votes necessary to end debate on a bill.
 
The House of Representatives already passed a cap-and-trade bill sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) in September.
 
Champions of a cap-and-trade scheme in the Senate like Boxer (D-Calif.) had hoped to move a bill through the chamber before the end of 2009, but were rebuffed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has said the debate will instead begin sometime in the spring.
 
While pundits interpret the delay as dimming the prospects for passage of one of the plans, environmentalist Goldston remains optimistic.
 
He told reporters: “We can make progress in an election year…and this sort of notion that sometimes asserts that you can’t get things done in an election year I think is odd. It basically means that Congress is only doing things that the public doesn’t support, which is an odd assumption in a democracy.
 
“It’s not clear what the logic is of the notion to me that this can’t be done in an election year. Do people feel that if we had done this at the end of 2009 instead of in 2010 that the issue would’ve escape the notice of the voters? It’s a little bit hard to understand where this idea actually comes from, and I think it’s only trotted out by people who don’t want action anyway.”