Nature Climate Change | Climate Feedback

Comments on the cold spell

Olive Heffernan

<img alt=“snowmanSmall.jpg” src=“http://blogs.nature.com/climatefeedback/snowmanSmall.jpg” width=“267” height=“331” align=“right” hspace=“10px”//>All over the blogosphere, punters are weighing in on what the current cold snap – one of the longest for a generation – means in the context of global warming.

In the same way that one swallow doesn’t make a summer, one cold spell doesn’t mean the end of a long-term warming trend. George Monbiot elaborates on this point over on the Guardian’s Comment is Free as does science writer Phillip Hunter in Prospect Magazine. Met office climatologist Richard Betts adds a bit more context on the science in an opinion piece on the BBC’s Green Room (The BBC also has a video with David Shukman reporting on the cold spell and climate change). In the Green Room piece, Betts writes:

No matter how many times we say that “global warming” means a rise of average temperature across the world, decade by decade, and not every year being consistently warmer than the last in every place on Earth, there are still those that get this mixed up.

Betts continues:

Yes, we have had the coldest December in the UK for 14 years and now we are having a big freeze in early January; but the UK covers less than half of one thousandth of the Earth’s surface. Last year was actually the fifth warmest year on record as far as global temperatures were concerned. The four warmest years were, in ascending order, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 1998. The last decade was the warmest on record, followed by the 1990s and then the 1980s, so the world is definitely warming up.


Over on the Huffington Post, blogger A. Siegel writes that the “It is cold in my backyard, therefore global warming isn’t real” perspective may partly be explained by our difficulty in comprehending something as large and gradual as climate change for, among other reasons,

Our own eyes: we live in our spaces, our own ‘environments’. “We are not born with global vision or a sense of history.”

We tend to focus “on contemporary local concerns”. Our evolution works against the long time frame as “humans did not need to know what the local climate would be like a century into the future” as “they were much more concerned with the necessities of the here and now, and had little time or inclination to ponder the abstract world.”

Betts argues that climate deniers and scientists alike are responsible for giving out mixed messages. He says that both can be guilty of erroneously using specific events as evidence for or against human-induced climate change, and that climate scientists must take more care in communicating their message to the public if they are to dispel confusion.

Image: © ISTOCKPHOTO / Lisa Thornberg

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