It was unseasonably cold in New Jersey when President Obama delivered his commencement speech at Rutgers University in Pitscataway on Sunday. It was so cold that in some areas of the state, small pellets of ice fell from the sky.
The cold weather, however, didn’t stop Obama from devoting a portion of his speech to human-caused global warming. In fact, Obama actually spent part of his speech rebuking politicians who deny climate science on the basis that sometimes it’s cold outside.
Here’s the relevant excerpt (emphasis added):
Now, I recognize it doesn’t feel like the planet is warmer right now. I understand. There was hail when I landed in Newark.
But think about the climate change issue. Every day, there are officials in high office with responsibilities who mock the overwhelming consensus of the world’s scientists that human activities and the release of carbon dioxide and methane and other substances are altering our climate in profound and dangerous ways.
A while back, you may have seen a United States senator trotted out a snowball during a floor speech in the middle of winter as “proof” that the world was not warming. I mean, listen, climate change is not something subject to political spin. There is evidence. There are facts. We can see it happening right now. If we don’t act, if we don’t follow through on the progress we made in Paris, the progress we’ve been making here at home, your generation will feel the brunt of this catastrophe.
So it’s up to you to insist upon and shape an informed debate. Imagine if Benjamin Franklin had seen that senator with the snowball, what he would think. Imagine if your 5th grade science teacher had seen that. He’d get a D. And he’s a senator!
If you follow climate change politics in the United States, you may think this is outdated stuff. The snowball incident Obama talked about — when Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) brought a snowball to the Senate floor to try and prove climate change is a hoax — happened more than a year ago.
But it turns out there are still influential politicians who espouse the idea that climate change — a global phenomenon — can be disproved by a cold snap in one small part of the world. Indeed, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has been saying it for years. About once a year (usually in winter), Donald Trump crafts a tweet claiming the cold weather proves there’s no global warming. Here’s his last one, from this past October.
It's really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 19, 2015
This is, of course, wrong. As ThinkProgress has explained before, global warming means that the globe — i.e., the whole planet, not just where you live — is steadily increasing in temperature, on average. The fact that it is very cold in one small part of the world for a short period of time does not disprove a long-term global trend.
For instance, while people living in Washington, D.C., may have felt like April was a pretty chilly month, it was actually the hottest April on record globally — meaning, on average across the world, this past April was hotter than any other April ever recorded. And while people living in the Northeastern United States may have rung in the year 2016 with record snowfall, the entire world is actually on track to have the hottest year in recorded history.
So, considering Trump’s position as the possible next president of the United States, it seemed timely that Obama would call out unnamed “officials in high office with responsibilities” who deny climate change on shaky grounds. Indeed, Obama spent much of his Rutgers commencement address making a forceful case against Trump, without actually saying Trump’s name. The climate call-out was just one more drop in the ice bucket.