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Cold weather doesn't refute climate change

Cold enough for you? With a polar vortex that has produced dangerously cold weather and wind chills of 50 below zero in the Midwest now lowering temperatures in Maryland as well, there is bound to be a lot of unhappy campers, some of whom in their moments of extreme discomfort are bound to say something along the lines of this: Whatever happened to global warming? For many, it’s just a way of ironically and humorously bemoaning the circumstances not unlike, “Cold enough for you?” Unfortunately, for others it is a less-than-subtle effort to suggest that climate change, despite overwhelming support for it within the scientific community, is a fraud as the icicles hanging from one’s nose can plainly show.

This is, of course, absurd. Weather and climate are not the same. Indeed, there is evidence that climate change worsens meteorological events, including winter storms. And a cold day or week or month in one country, let alone one part of one country, amounts to mere anecdotal evidence that can’t refute the overwhelming amount of data that shows the planet is warming, from shrinking glaciers and rising seas to average temperatures on land and in the ocean that have been recorded over much longer periods of time and from sites around the world.

Four years ago, this silliness was manifested by Sen. Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who brought a snowball on the Senate floor to refute climate change — in February. “You know what this is?” the climate change denier said at the time. “It’s a snowball, from outside here. So it’s very, very cold out. Very unseasonable.” Now, the mantle has been picked up by the denier-in-chief who tweeted Monday evening: “People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!”

Assuming he meant “Warming” and that “Waming” was a typo, this is patently idiotic. That it can get really, really cold in late January is no more an indicator of what’s happening with climate than the disappearance of the sun at night marks the end of the world. There are all kinds of intelligent debates to have about climate change, but pretending that there’s nothing going on with all those trillions of pounds of man-made greenhouse gases that have been pumped into the atmosphere isn’t one of them. The mocking tone doesn’t make him sound like an authority, it makes him sound like like a courtroom extra in a community production of “The Crucible” cheering for the accused to be hanged for witchcraft.

Of course, it wasn’t the first time this president has tweeted something really foolish about climate, and it won’t be the last. But it’s certain that this nonsense will be echoed today by the president’s supporters and the talk radio crowd who don’t merely admit to ignorance but flaunt it with pride. To them, climate change is a joke and ominous warnings of disaster ahead are the punchline. How they explain away rising sea levels and other current manifestations get a little dicey, of course. They prefer to focus on hundreds of coal mining jobs put at risk by climate policies that could save millions of lives.

Cold snaps happen. And the polar vortex that is behind the current weather is, in part, a result of changes in the jet stream that are — wait for it — a product of climate change, allowing arctic weather to escape the arctic. The tragedy is not that Mr. Trump’s mockery offends liberals, it’s that his denial of climate change delays this nation’s proper response to this serious threat. The longer the U.S. and other countries take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the less that can be done to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Each year, each month, each week that goes by without a rational policy, the more the window for action closes.

Don’t take our word for it. Just check out the views of Mr. Trump’s own experts like the scientists at NASA where the chart monitoring carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for the last 400,000 years takes a dramatic upturn in the 19th and 20th centuries that continues today. The proof is unequivocal. And the best remedy, reducing harmful emissions, won’t happen if the country pursues an energy policy that promotes burning fossil fuels. Sorry but there’s just no good punch line there.

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