It’s time for us to start talking about “climate change” instead of global warming…
1) “Climate change” is less frightening than “global warming”. As one focus group participant noted, climate change “sounds like you’re going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale.” While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.
Scientists, environmentalists, progressives, and frankly the whole darn planet have always used both terms — hence the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established in 1988.
But when have the facts ever gotten in the way of a good narrative in a Rupert Murdoch news outlet? So we have a Wall Street Journal editorial from Thursday, plaintively headlined “It Isn’t Climate Change,” which laughably asserts:
This being 2014, when everything devolves to politics, any spell of cold or heat inevitably leads to explanations of climate change. The conservative websites are having a good time pointing to the cold temps as a repudiation of global-warming models, while the global-warming crowd says even the cold is proof of … climate change. You see, it’s all about climate extremes. That’s why the liberals no longer refer to “global warming.”
It’s good to see the WSJ admit that conservative websites actually think the existence of winter repudiates global warming models. But since we’re talking semantics here, the global warming crowd doesn’t say the cold is proof of climate change. Scientific observation and analysis are what prove climate change.
Back in 2010, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences said the case for warming was so strong they labeled as “settled facts” that “the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.” The recent literature review of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that scientists are as certain that humans are warming the globe “as they are that cigarettes kill.” And the IPCC’s best estimate is that humans are responsible for all of the warming we have suffered since 1950.
So there’s no need for anyone to waste time examining whether or not winter cold proves or disproves climate science. How precisely could the relatively modest warming we have seen to date — about 1.5°F — possibly eliminate winter cold spells?
It is true that some climate scientists have worked to understand how occasional deep cold spells are not inconsistent with warming-driven Arctic sea ice changes (see “Arctic Sea Ice Death Spiral And Cold Weather”). But then we’ve seen so many off the charts weather extremes and weather whiplash in recent years, it bears as much study as possible given how devastating climate-driven weather extremes can be.
Yes, 2013 was on the cool side for the United States, and “for the first time in 20 years, the U.S. saw more record cold temperatures than record hot temperatures in 2013,” as USA Today reports. But coming off 2012, the hottest year in U.S. history, “the ratio of daily highs to daily lows continues to be near 3 to 1 for this decade, so far,” notes Weather Channel meteorologist Guy Walton. That is considerably higher than the ratio from the previous decade.
As I discussed Thursday, the planet keeps warming and this year may well be the hottest on record. So global warming remains an accurate term. But we are also seeing changes that aren’t gradual — so-called non-linear changes — such as the unexpectedly rapid loss of Arctic ice, which may be weakening the jetstream and causing unexpectedly strong weather extremes. So climate change is also an accurate term.
Climate scientists, I expect, will continue to use both terms to explain what’s going on, whereas deniers will probably use both to mock and harass climate scientists with false charges and smears, as exemplified in this Media Matters video :
Media Matters further notes:
The term “climate change” was used long before Luntz’s memo, particularly in the scientific literature. For instance, a 1970 paper published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was titled “Carbon Dioxide and its Role in Climate Change” and discussed how emissions of carbon dioxide warm the atmosphere.
Others prefer “Global Weirding.” Whatever you call it, it ain’t gonna be pretty.
Finally, Peter Sinclair also has a video debunking this myth showing just how far back the term “climate change” goes: