Snow falls, climate changes

For those who have found the cold, snowy winter of 2014-2015 more than mildly irritating and the words, "be grateful you don't live in Boston" insufficiently comforting, today's snowfall may have pushed you over the edge. Not only because it shut down schools, governments and businesses and left many roads a mess but because it provoked the most insufferable effect of winter weather — the postings on the Internet by those who think with this latest snowfall they've uncovered proof positive that climate change is a hoax.

This is, of course, nonsensical and similar to seeing low tide as evidence that rising ocean levels are a myth as well. We don't recall any scientist suggesting that the growing abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would put an end to winter weather. Snow in March has been seen before, and it might just happen again. A lot. Seasons change and the earth still revolves around the sun. That's hardly a rational way to assess the impact of climate change.


Yet, such social media blather goes on — and not just by the trolls. Last week, Sen. James Inhofe brought a snowball into the U.S. Senate to disprove that the climate is warming. Here's what he said: "In case we have forgotten, because we keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record, I ask the chair, you know what this is? It's a snowball. And that's just from outside here. So it's very, very cold out."

That came from the chair from the Senate committee that oversees environmental policy including climate change. He's taken quite a bit of ribbing from the late-night comedians over that stunt. He's deserved every minute of it. But it's alarming to find that not all are laughing at such observations, preferring to fundamentally misunderstand what actual scientists have to say about global warming and its impact on weather.

First, climate change doesn't mean that every point on the globe is going to experience record high temperatures every day of the week. Climate doesn't work like that. The Northeast's frigid winter has been blamed primarily on the "polar vortex," which has been a shifting of cold Arctic air southward and a repositioning of the west-to-east jet stream. What has caused this? The latest research suggests warming arctic temperatures. And what has caused that? You guessed it, those pesky greenhouse gases that made 2014 a record warm year.

Some people won't accept that something referred to as "global warming" can be connected to snowy weather, just as some people can't believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old when biblical scholars have suggested it's closer to 6,000 years. The problem is when such science deniers are entrusted with setting public policy for the rest of us. Maryland's coastal plain will be swamped by the time the doubters realize that a certain Oklahoma senator was steering them wrong.

Now, we don't deny that some advocates for reducing the impact of man-made climate change will sometimes leap to conclusions in their pronouncements as well. Not every record high temperature or prolonged drought is directly traceable to changes in the global climate. Weather is still weather. Unfortunately, the naysayers look at the long-term evidence — ice core samples, glacier boundaries or years of sea level observations — and refuse to accept what the vast majority of scientists have concluded about them, which is that climate change is real and a growing threat.

Recently, the Congress wasted a great deal of time passing a bill to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline even though everyone knew President Barack Obama was going to veto it and the Senate would not have enough votes to override that veto. All that came to pass, and what did the U.S. get out of it? A reduction in the burning of fossil fuels? An investment in alternative energies? Anything productive? It was none of the above. Talk about fiddling while the U.S. burns. (Not literally, Senator Inhofe, although increased prevalence and severity of wildfires are yet another effect of climate change.)

The good news is that winter, like this most recent snow storm, is going to end. The bad is that ignorance about climate change appears destined to continue.