There's one in every crowd: The comedian who says, "How can there be global warming when it's so damn cold outside, ha-ha-ha."
Or perhaps the more direct Southern variation: "Global warming, my ass!"
Those are popular laugh lines this winter for a reason. According to recent polling, the number of Americans who don't believe there's such a thing as global warming is rising dramatically.
And as proof that denial is perhaps the strongest human emotion, of those who do believe in global warming, a clear majority don't believe humans play an active role in it.
So I must again call attention to the outstanding work that WTOC meteorologist Patrick Prokop is doing on his Facebook page to educate the public about the science behind climate change. Last week, he hosted an online forum inviting questions from his 3,000-plus Facebook friends on the topic. In the forum, Prokop - who says, "I desperately try to keep out of politics and stick strictly to the science" - patiently answered each question in as neutral a scientific voice as possible.
With Pat's blessing, and in the spirit of his Facebook forums - "The whole concept is to educate," he says - I'm going to excerpt some highlights below. The boldfaced lead-ins are my own attempt to summarize typical questions, but the answers in quotes are all his.
Why is it so cold if there's global warming? "The answer is short and sweet... it's winter."
Is climate change real or not? "In my eyes, as a scientist, looking at the evidence, I have to say it is real. The evidence is: the ice is melting at the poles, the sea level is slowly rising, the ocean temperature is rising, the oceans are becoming more acidic, the overall global land temperature is rising, the subtropical weather zones are migrating slowly northward, many animals and plants are become extinct at an alarming rate and the glaciers are melting. Is this just a natural event? After all, the earth has been much warmer than it is today, millions of years ago. However, what took earth thousands to tens of thousands of years to accomplish is being done in just a 100 or so years."
How can we know what temperatures were when there were no thermometers? "You can still measure temperature by the amount of snow and ice, tree rings, fossil deposits, rock formation, sea bottom deposits, even little tiny sea shells in those deposits and from them you can deduct the past atmospheric composition. It's all part of historic geology."
On what individuals can do: "No one needs to sacrifice... just live wisely. Cutting your carbon footprint... change lights to energy efficient CFL or LED. Insulate your homes well... Acquire EF appliances. If you are not using it, turn it off. If you have the means, you can even install a solar hot water heater or even solar panels to generate electricity. We've cut our electric bill by more than in half (more importantly, the amount of kilowatt hours that we buy) by doing all of the above."
On those predictions in the ‘70s about a new Ice Age: "Prior to the Clean Air Act, the burning of coal was basically unchecked, which spewed tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. These airborne aerosols acted as a solar reflector, much in the same way a major volcano eruption spews tons of soot or ash into the atmosphere which in turn reflect sunlight back into space. This results in a negative climate forcing value cooling the atmosphere... When the Clean Air Act was passed and scrubbers where introduced on the smoke stacks, the aerosols began to decline and the global temperature began to trend upward. The natural cycle of climate should be toward a cooler event... But now the climate forcing due to green house gases has surpassed the negative climate forcing from natural cooling events, leading to a net gain in global heating."
Prokop, you're a commie pinko liberal and global warming is a hoax. "I am by no means a politician. I am neither Democrat nor Republican. I voted for Democratic as well as Republican presidential candidates. I am more an Independent when it comes to political views. I seek the science in the topic."
Keep seeking the science, Pat, and let the chips fall where they may.