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Climate and Weather

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A massive winter storm has buffeted much of the South and East this past week, bringing sheets of ice to Georgia and more than a foot of snow to points further north.

The storm and the recent bitterly cold weather over much of the nation has brought out the global-warming deniers. There’s this tweet from Donald Trump, the self-described expert on practically everything: “This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps.” Right-wing blogger Erick Erickson tweets: “The difference between people who believe in the 2nd coming of Jesus and those who believe in global warming is that Jesus will return.” Stuart Varney of Fox Business claims “we’re looking at global cooling, forget this global warming.” Rush Limbaugh, who thinks he knows everything about everything, blamed liberals for “perpetrating a hoax” on global warming. Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe says the United Nations invented the “global warming thing” as a power grab.

The deniers are conflating weather with climate, failing to recognize that the two are not the same. Climate is the average weather conditions over a long-period of time in a large area. Weather is the current condition for a short-period of time in a specific area.

In other words, climate is what is happening over centuries and millennia in a large area while weather is what will happen tomorrow.

Concentrating on the weather — what happened yesterday, today, and tomorrow — in one localized area ignores what may be happening in other regions. While the eastern two-thirds of the nation has been freezing and digging out from snow, Californians are suffering from record heat and drought.

The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. The last 650,000 years have witnessed seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat. The abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marks the beginning of the modern climate era and of human civilization. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration notes that most climate changes have been due to small variations in the Earth’s orbit and to changes in the amount of solar energy reaching the planet.

NASA says, and most atmospheric scientists agree, that the current warming trend is most likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate much faster than anything in the past 1,300 years.

Scientific evidence demonstrates that global warming is caused by the the emission of carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases trap heat, causing temperatures to rise worldwide over time.

The evidence for global warming is compelling: Sea level has risen about 6.7 inches in the last hundred years; the Earth has warmed since 1880, with the twenty warmest years in record having occurred since 1981 and the ten warmest years in the last twelve; ocean temperature has warmed steadily since 1969; ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica have shrunk, as has the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice; and glaciers are retreating everywhere around the world.

Scientists believe the number of recent extreme weather events — such as Superstorm Sandy in 2012 — is due to warming ocean temperatures caused by climate change. Scientists speculate that the spate of recent cold weather in the East caused by the polar vortex may be due to disruptions in weather temperatures over the Arctic.

Cold weather in one region for a specified period of time does not disprove global warming, despite the railings of Limbaugh, Trump, and others.

As for Senator Inhofe, perhaps the leading global warming doubter in Congress, in 2013 his home state of Oklahoma suffered severe drought and the hottest summer ever recorded.

But that's just the weather.

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