Hopefully Santa’s sleigh has mud flaps. While the United States braces for a Christmas snowstorm, the North Pole is set to be 50 degrees warmer than normal, with temperatures approaching 32 degrees Fahrenheit—enough to melt the snow into a slushy mess for Rudolph and friends.
That’s the thing about “climate change,” or as it’s more accurately called, global climate disruption. It’s not as simple as “global warming,” because when you mess with the Earth’s climatic systems, the results aren’t uniform.
Around Thanksgiving, for example, the Arctic was 36 degrees warmer than usual, while a mass of cold polar air moved over Siberia, causing record low temperatures and, reportedly, several deaths from freezing. And you may recall that in 2014, the “polar vortex” froze North America while also changing the jet stream, contributing to California’s recent drought.
This kind of variation is what led climate truther and U.S. Senator James Inhofe—who not only denies that climate change is real, but alleges a vast international conspiracy to lie about it—to bring a snowball to the Senate floor back in 2015. Ironically, just as Senator Snowball was showboating on the floor of the Senate, NASA observed that the massive, 618-square mile Larson B Ice Shelf in Antarctica was falling into the sea.
Yes, Senator, it snowed in Washington in March. But in 2015, the Northeastern United States was an anomalously cool area in a world of record high temperatures. Just look at the map.
Of course, now the NASA program that produced that map, and the observations in Antarctica, has been slated for closure by the President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team. Because nothing helps denial more than closing your eyes, plugging your ears, and chanting, “I can’t hear you.”
Indeed, the more one cares to look at the facts, the more obvious it is that the current warming of the Earth is unprecedented in scope and magnitude. Every region of the world goes through cold and warm periods. But what’s happening at the North Pole is part of a larger pattern. This year, for example, Arctic Ocean ice reached its lowest level ever measured, beating the record from 2015. That causes a feedback loop, since ice reflects solar radiation more than water or land do. The less ice, the more heat absorption; the more heat absorption, the less ice; et cetera.
Moreover, last winter was the warmest ever at the North Pole—until this winter, that is. The World Weather Attribution network crunched the peer-reviewed climate models, and concluded that warm years like this one should occur once every 50 years, even in the context of moderate global warming. (They were unheard of a hundred years ago.) And now we’ve had them back to back.
In the rest of the world, including China, scientific findings like these have shifted government policies to favor cleaner energy and conservation. But in the incoming administration, the worldwide scientific consensus is derided as “climate alarmism.”
For example, earlier this month saw a dust-up between the Republican-led House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and Senator Bernie Sanders. The House Committee had retweeted a poorly researched article from Breitbart.com headlined “Global Temperatures Plunge.” Sanders tweeted back, “Where’d you get your PhD? Trump University?”
Aside from the spectacle of a House committee tweeting material from the “platform for the Alt-Right,” the article in question was pure bunk. It noted that global temperatures have declined from their all-time peak in March 2016, failing to note that even the somewhat lower temperatures would have been world records just 10 years ago.
Imagine if that were your child’s fever—it’s not 104, but it’s still 103. Still no cause for alarm?
Sadly, such minutiae are unlikely to be noticed by all but the most ardent climate-watchers. To everyone else, climate change is starting to look like a game of he said/he said. Except, on the one side are politicians, and on the other is the entirety—as in 100 percent entirety—of peer-reviewed scientific articles on climate. A recent study showed that of 928 peer-reviewed articles were published in scientific journals over a five-year period, 928 adduced evidence proving the existence of human-caused climate change, and zero—zero!—produced evidence contradicting it.
Meanwhile, as the Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting website noted, the most prominent climate deniers are people who know nothing about climate science. The head of the House Committee on Science, Lamar Smith, is a lawyer. Scott Pruitt, tapped to head Trump’s EPA, is too. Trump’s space policy advisor, who has called for ending NASA’s climate research, has a master’s in political science.
If a doctor told you that you had cancer, but a lawyer told you that you didn’t, who would you trust?
Trouble is, the lawyers are getting paid more. As Naomi Oreskes and others have painstakingly researched, energy companies have created an entire parallel universe of pseudoscience—stuff that comes on corporate letterhead from The Heartland Institute or the Global Climate Coalition but which is, in fact, pure drivel written by non-scientists to sow doubt and postpone action.
A 2008 study reviewed 141 books that denied the serious of environmental problems; 130 of them were published by Conservative Think Tanks (CTTs) or authors affiliated with them. And who funds the CTTs? Fossil-fuel industry groups, big oil donors like the Koch brothers, and individual companies like ExxonMobil, which has spent tens of millions of dollars on CTTs—and whose CEO is set to be the next secretary of State.
Or to take another example, the Heartland Institute (leading funders: ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, Philip Morris) put out a colorful poster last year showing “58 experts [who] don’t believe global warming is a crisis.” Well, I checked the resumes of all 58. Turns out only three have any credentials in climatology or atmospheric science. Sixteen are conservative political pundits, 11 are meteorologists, six are conservative economists, and the rest a hodgepodge.
There is no “controversy” over climate change, any more than there was a controversy over the dangers of tobacco smoke—a pseudo-controversy created by the same network of think tanks. That’s why the United States stands alone in the civilized world in denying climate change, and why the new “drill, baby, drill” administration is set to undo the tiny amounts of progress we have made.
So, Santa, if your workshop really is melting, at least you know who to blame: the people moving into the White House.