Washington, D.C. declared another snow emergency in expectation of more snow Monday, after being walloped by two back-to-back blizzards last week. Indeed, this past week it was reported that 49 of the 50 states had at least some snow on the ground — only Hawaii has been spared. The snowfall this winter has broken records across the country, while simultaneously fueling right-wing media and the blogosphere’s frenzied denunciations of, as one Fox News journalist described it, “the global warming hysteria.”
First, the facts: “climate change,” as reported by National Public Radio, “is the long-term trend of atmospheric conditions across large regions, even the whole planet. Changes in climate are slow and measured in decades, not weeks.” According to Dr. Jeff Masters, a meteorologist with WeatherUnderground.com, “we still have winter even if temperatures have warmed on average… about one degree Fahrenheit over the past 100 years.” The recent weather, which many scientists attribute to more water vapor in the air due to warming oceans, and the surprisingly strong effects of El Nino, in addition to the season also being, well, winter, is in no way indicative of larger climate trends.
That’s not the impression you would get from many right-wing media outlets. In a Feb. 8 editorial, The Washington Times wrote, “those who value freedom should thank Mother Nature for her sense of humor, undermining global warming one flake at a time.”
Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity suggested that the weather might be a message from God to climate change protestors to cease and desist: “All right, take a look at the protestors … shivering in the snow as they protest the Earth’s rising temperature as a foot of snow falls. Now maybe it’s just a coincidence … or maybe the big guy up there is trying to send a message to these people.”
Glenn Beck, possibly the most frightening, yet amusing commentator on Fox News said, “If you’re in the New York area — well, if you’re in half the country — they got a snowstorm. Aren’t you sick of this global warming thing?” The list of absurd remarks continues. Erick Erickson of Redstate.com wrote that climate change activism “is just the 21st century equivalent of the 5000-year-old sun worshipping religions.” The “30 inches of snow in Washington, D.C.,” Erickson mocks, “means a new federal agency to ‘study and report on the changing climate,’” citing a recent proposal by President Barack Obama’s Administration.
You may ask — and rightly so — so what? What difference does it make that the climate change skeptics are shooting their mouths off, using the recent blizzards to advance their ludicrous ideas? Well, their talking may be working. According to a joint January 2010 survey by Yale University and George Mason University, only 57 percent of Americans believe climate change is occurring, down from 71 percent in October 2008.
An erosion of belief in the public certainly influences the policy-making process, as legislators become more wary to tackle climate change if it means less votes at home. While it’s hard to know what’s causing this erosion of public belief in climate change, the folks at Fox News and other right-wing media outlets can surely claim some of the credit. Glenn Beck would have been proud when, last week, I heard a girl in the Sadler Center vehemently attack the idea of climate change: “Global warming, my ass. It’s nothing but a hoax!”
While any claim that has the potential to disrupt people’s lives and cost taxpayers billions of dollars — as climate change does — should be viewed with healthy skepticism, the evidence of climate change is unequivocal. The past decade was the warmest on record, and scientists can point to a clear warming trend over the past one hundred years. Most of the world’s glaciers are melting, its seas are warming and ice caps are disappearing. The problem is real, regardless of what right-wing blowhards suggest. What will we do about it?
That may take some time to answer, but for now I’ll be heading back to northern Virginia to help my parents shovel the house out from its ice cave.
E-mail Beau Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.