A political hockey fight has broken out over whether or not the recent nasty weather in Washington, D.C., proves or disproves global warming. The argument misses the point; weather is different from the climate, and one cannot make generalizations based on the temperatures or snowfall on any given day (or small set of days). While folks in the Beltway are trying to dig out from under record snowfall, folks in Vancouver have to use helicopters to fly in snow in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Which is the more important story from a "global" perspective?
A theory that explains both a surfeit of snow in the mid-Atlantic and a deficit of snow in Canada is a theory that explains everything and therefore nothing. For many, it too often seems that global warming can never be falsified. You don't need to be a member of the "reality-based community" to tell you that's bad science.
Just as the blizzard does not "prove" global warming, it does not "disprove" it, either. What's amusing is that liberals have seized on a single Time magazine column to refute mirthful critics like Jim DeMint. Insecure much?
As it happens, Bryan Walsh's article devotes its entire conclusion to a hedge:
Ultimately, however, it's a mistake to use any one storm — or even a season's worth of storms — to disprove climate change (or to prove it; some environmentalists have wrongly tied the lack of snow in Vancouver, the site of the Winter Olympic Games, which begin this week, to global warming). Weather is what will happen next weekend; climate is what will happen over the next decades and centuries. And while our ability to predict the former has become reasonably reliable, scientists are still a long way from being able to make accurate projections about the future of the global climate. Of course, that doesn't help you much when you're trying to locate your car under a foot of powder.
The actual evidence presented in the article:
(1) A weatherman who, according to Walsh, notes that "the two major storms that hit Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., this winter — in December and during the first weekend of February — are already among the 10 heaviest snowfalls those cities have ever recorded. The chance of that happening in the same winter is incredibly unlikely." Tell me about it! But of course improbable events happen all the time.
(2) A 2009 report that showed "large-scale cold-weather storm systems have gradually tracked to the north in the U.S. over the past 50 years." Interesting, but not necessarily dispositive.
(3) A 2003 study which purported to show that warmer temperatures have led to "more snow in the already hard-hit Great Lakes region." Again, interesting -- but how does that explain the blizzard in the mid-Atlantic?
Anyway, that's it for Walsh's evidence. Overall, I don't know enough of the science to say which side is correct -- which is why I'm a global-warming agnostic like Charles Krauthammer.
I do know, however, that even as both sides squabble over the weather (with the government shut down, there isn't much else to squabble about), two major scandals have rocked the climate-science world in recent months. Steven F. Hayward wrote the definitive essay on the East Anglia climate emails scandal for us last year. And Walter Russell Mead is the guy to read about the scandal rocking the 2007 IPCC climate report, which included plenty of faulty claims and which shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.
Seems to me that advocates of cap-and-trade and global treaties to restrict carbon dioxide have a lot more to worry about than one terrible blizzard, don't they?