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12/1/2018 10:45:00 AM
COMMENTARY: Climate report inspires red herrings

Kelly Hawes, Herald Bulletin CNHI News Indiana Columnist

You have to give Danielle Pletka credit.

Before blowing smoke about climate change during a recent appearance on NBC’s "Meet the Press," she did offer one important confession.

“I’m not a scientist,” she said. 

Nonetheless, Pletka, a foreign policy adviser at the American Enterprise Institute, argued the mainstream media tended to ignore some important details on climate.

“We need to also recognize we had two of the coldest years, biggest drop in global temperatures that we have had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years,” she said. “We don't talk about that."

Actually we do. In a column called EarthTalk, the magazine Scientific American addressed why global warming can lead to colder winters.

There’s a difference, the magazine said, between weather and climate. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines climate as the average of weather over at least 30 years. That means one or two cold winters don’t disprove the science around global warming.

“The flip side of the question, of course, is whether global warming is at least partly to blame for especially harsh winter weather,” the magazine said. “As we pointed out in a recent EarthTalk column, warmer temperatures in the winter of 2006 caused Lake Erie to not freeze for the first time in its history. This actually led to increased snowfalls because more evaporating water from the lake was available for precipitation.”

President Donald J. Trump clearly doesn’t understand any of this. Two days before his administration released the latest national climate assessment, the president offered a comment on the weather.

“Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS,” he tweeted. “Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

Days later, reporters asked the president why he was dismissing a climate report put together by his own administration. His response wasn’t surprising.

“I don’t believe it,” he said.

Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and co-author of the report, had a simple reply.

“Unfortunately, facts aren’t optional,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “We can say we don’t believe them, but they’re still true.”

CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote about the report in his column The Point. He described the nearly 1,700-page assessment as a “terrifying read.”

“Unless we start making some major changes – and soon – we face the very real potential of crossing the point of no return when it comes to the planet’s warming, and the consequences that result from it,” he wrote. 

Of course, that doesn’t deter guys like former presidential candidate Rick Santorum from casting aspersions. Santorum, himself a paid advocate for the biofuels industry, went so far as to suggest climate scientists were only in it for the money.

“There would be no chair of the head of climate studies at every university in America if we didn’t have a crisis,” he said. “These people make money because there’s a crisis.”

Reached by PolitiFact’s John Kruzel to defend her remarks on climate change, Pletka basically doubled down.

“Had I said that God is dead, there would have been less of an outcry,” she said. “Note, I commented that I have little doubt climate change is real. This is an area in which scholarship and science play no role, notwithstanding the pieties of its adherents. It is a religion.”

Kruzel was unimpressed. He said Pletka’s claim concerning two of the coldest years on record was wrong. According to one measure, he said, 2016 and 2017 were actually the two warmest years on record.

“With that in mind, Pletka’s assertion that we’ve recently seen the biggest drop in global temperatures is a red herring,” he wrote. “It’s based on a cherry-picked statistical fluke of no relevance. ...”

He rated Pletka’s claim as false.

Related Stories:
• Report: Changing climate will affect recreation and tourism in Indiana
• OPINION: Alternative responses to climate change

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