On Monday night, President Donald Trump tweeted this: “In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!”
A quick Google search pulled up this NASA for Kids article that fully debunked the idea that cold weather – and even a prolonged period of it – could possibly be proof that global warming is overblown.
But I wanted to go a bit deeper. So I asked my friend Jason Samenow, a meteorologist and the weather editor of The Washington Post’s indispensable Capital Weather Gang, to answer a few questions for me. He agreed – despite a winter storm bearing down on the Mid-Atlantic today. (For much more on the effects of climate change on how we live – and how we will live – check out this new WaPo series.)
My conversation with Samenow, conducted via email and lightly edited for flow, is below.
Cillizza: Let’s start simple: Does cold weather for a few days – or even a few months – negate global warming?
Samenow: Absolutely not. Global warming refers to the trend in rising temperatures over decades. Punishing cold snaps are still expected in a warming world, just fewer of them. And their intensity should tend to ease some over time – but they won’t ever entirely disappear.
Cillizza: Donald Trump is far from the only politician who has tried to connect cold weather with some refutation of global warming. (Jim Inhofe brought a snowball onto the Senate floor!) How did this get started?
Samenow: Since the 1980s, some politicians – mainly in the Republican Party – have expressed doubts about global warming and its seriousness. Senator Inhofe became one of the louder voices taking such a dismissive position in the early 2000s, and President Trump has seemed to have taken the baton with his recent Twitter missives.
Cillizza: Take a step back and put the whole cold weather thing behind us. Is there ANY doubt the world is warming? And is there ANY doubt that this is not part of a cyclical process?
Samenow: The warming of the climate system is unambiguous and irrefutable. The last four years have been the four warmest years on record for the planet. If you don’t believe thermometers over land areas, there are all kinds of additional indicators such as decreasing polar ice, melting glaciers, longer flowering and pollen seasons, and rising temperatures in lakes, streams and oceans.
Scientists publishing research in academic journals have been able to rule out natural or cyclical explanations for this warming and attribute it almost entirely to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.
Cillizza: Finish this sentence: “The biggest question surrounding global warming in our society should be ______.” Now, explain.
Samenow: “How do we solve it?”
Scientists are clear that the more it warms and the faster it warms, the greater the risk of unwelcome consequences and the more costly and disruptive they become. We need practical, cost-effective solutions – implemented globally – to slow global warming and avoid the most severe effects.