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Ice, snow, subzero temps and climate change

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A hard freeze warning has been issued for New Orleans for Monday into Tuesday, acording to the National Weather Service. While such chilly temperatures are not unknown here, they aren't the norm.

Yet, NOLA is hardly going to bear the brunt of the nation's brutal cold snap, as 25 states lie in the path of Mother Nature's cold shoulder. On Tuesday in Connecticut, for example, subzero temperatures will once again chill the state.

Climate change naysayers told us so? Not so fast.

With extraordinarily frigid temperatures wrapping the planet this winter, climate change naysayers are having a field day. On Jan 3, Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump) tweeted,

Record snowfall & freezing temps throughout the country. Where is Global Warming when you need it?!

Yet, the unfortuate label "global warming" misses the point, and proves a disservice to the more accurate label, "climate change". For, what's happening is that climate is changing, which means not only "warming" but increased tornadic activity, melting glacial ice, rising seas and decreasing snow cover as well as, yes, periods of frigid cold and ice.

Why is it so cold if climate change is a problem?

When greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are released into the atmosphere, common sense should tell anyone that the result cannot be good. Yet determining the "why" behind our super cold winter is more complex.

Firstly, one must look at the long-term trends rather than the short-term trends. 'Yes, we're freezing in New Orleans today', you might say, 'but last year it was 70 degrees on this date'.

The year that just ended broke a 20-year trend of more warmer days than cold ones. That's one in 20, hardly a spate of cold winters. By comparison, the previous year (2012) had far more warmer days, with record highs eclipsing record lows by 4-to-1.

Secondly, we've actually bucked a trend of issuing more and more methane each year. This is partly due to the rise in fracking for natural gas, which lessens the blight of burning fossil fuels, a known GHG spurer. (Fracking is, arguably, causing other hazards including chemicals in our water supply and earthquakes, but let's save that for another day.)

Thirdly, and most importantly, climate change does not always equate with climate warming. The science behind this is complex, so readers would be encouraged to follow the best information out there. Start by reading Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basic, published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for more information. For example, on page 8, the panel write that,

... some aerosols increase atmospheric reflectivity, while others (e.g., particulate black carbon) are strong absorbers ... Indirectly, aerosols also affect cloud albedo, because many aerosols serve as cloud condensation nuclei or ice nuclei. This means that changes in aerosol types and distribution can result in small but important changes in cloud albedo and lifetime... Clouds play a critical role in climate, since they can not only increase albedo, thereby cooling the planet, but they are also important because of their warming effects through infrared radiative transfer. Whether the net radiative effect of a cloud is one of cooling or of warming depends on its physical properties (level of occurrence, vertical extent, water path and effective cloud particle size) as well as on the nature of the cloud condensation nuclei population... Humans enhance the greenhouse effect directly by emitting greenhouse gases such as CO2, CH4, N2O, and chlorofluorocarbons ,.. In addition, pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOC), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), which by themselves are negligible GHGs, have an indirect effect on the greenhouse effect by altering, through atmospheric chemical reactions, the abundance of important gases to the amount of outgoing LWR (light water reactors*) such as CH4 (methan*) and ozone ... and/or by acting as precursors of secondary aerosols. Since anthropogenic emission sources simultaneously can emit some chemicals that affect climate and others that affect air pollution, including some that affect both, atmospheric chemistry and climate science are intrinsically linked.

Projected long-term temperature rise

Back in 2007, Oxford University Environmental Change Institute published a report warning that by the 2080s, temperature rise could spike by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, in the UK, for example, storm tracks are projected to rise by 60 percent, while global sea level rise will increase by 19 – 79 cm (or roughly 7.4 - 31.1 inches)

Most scientists agree that extreme weather events, which include those horrific hurricanes that have ravaged the U.S. -- Katrina and Sandy in particular -- are the byproducts of climate change. These extremes, like human emotional extremes or moods, are spurred of chemical imbalance.

"Pause" in global warming

There are some reports that attest to a "pause" in overall global warming, as there has been nearly a 30 percent increase in the amount of sea covered with ice, compared to last year. Some might say to prove this point, one need look no further than the stranded scientists and journalists on board the Australasian Antarctic Expedition. They were stuck in ice for several days.

However, this does not appear to be the case. To clear up the confusion about a possible climate change link, one scientist on board told the UK's Guardian,

Let's be clear. Us becoming locked in ice was not caused by climate change. Instead it seems to have been an aftershock of the arrival of iceberg B09B which triggered a massive reconfiguration of sea ice in the area.

Public remains icy to notion of climate change

Although 97 percent of climate scientists believe climate change is real and human caused, at least in part, only about half of the American public agree with the link to human activity, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change.

The naysayers search for "news" as well as actual news that supports their position. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does site some good news along with the bad: between 1990 and 2011 greenhouse gases (GHGs) per dollar of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) dropped by 35 percent--possibly reflecting "a combination of increased energy efficiency and structural changes in the economy", they say.

Yet, overall, the amount of ozone-depleting pollutants the world spews remains dangerously high, with the U.S. a disproportionate bully of the world's climate. For in 2011, U.S. GHGs totaled 6,702 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents, an 8 percent hike over 1990 figures, according to the EPA.

Further, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) writes that,

Though natural amounts of CO2 have varied from 180 to 300 parts per million (ppm), today's CO2 levels are around 400 ppm. That's 30% more than the highest natural levels over the past 800,000 years.

* - Edit the Examiner's. Note, bold marks, hyperlinks and underlined passages are those of this reporter's.

* - 1-6-2014 - The HuffPost's green section reports that the frosty temps are due to pockets of Artic cold escaping due to a slow-down in the jet stream, which was, predictably, caused by the very global warming Trump's dismissing.

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