It's Cold Outside, but the Planet's Still Heating Up

Friday, February 07, 2014

A snow plow driving through Central Park during an afternoon snowfall. (Natalie Fertig/WNYC)

Chris Mooney, Mother Jones correspondent and climate journalist looks at the wacky weather we've been experiencing—severe droughts in California and the Southwest, snow in the South, recurring Polar Vortexes—and puts it in the larger context of climate change. His latest articles include: "You Might Be Cold Right Now, But Your Planet Isn't," "NASA: 2013 Tied for the 7th-Hottest Year on Record," "6 Scary Facts About California's Drought," and "Global-Warming Denial Hits a 6-Year High."

Mooney said one theory for this year's weather is that the Arctic is warming faster than middle of the planet is, and the warm air that's creating has been interfering with the jet stream, making it stagger around like it’s drunk.

He also noted that climate change has become a culture war issue. "Climate change denial is an economic/libertarian ideology," he said. The right perceives climate change as an affront to free market philosophy. Although, Mooney pointed out, there are a lot of potential business opportunities arising from the problems climate change is bringing about.


Chris Mooney

Comments [24]

John A

Since there is math on this page, I had to check.
"How much is 165,000 kj? ... 7.61x10^-23 kilowatt-hours."
Instead I get
1J = 2.78×10−7 kW-h
1kJ = 2.78×10−4 kW-h
165,000 kJ = 45.87 kW-h
So, recheck yourself!

Feb. 19 2014 08:56 PM

Link to is broken.

Feb. 08 2014 09:02 PM
Gord Lewis from Upper Slobovia

Sorry to see you've bought into newly minted B.S. jargon, but if you insist, the correct plural form would be 'polar vortices'. Old-school types call this event a 'cold snap'. So far its been perfectly understandable to all.

Feb. 08 2014 03:44 PM
Vic from .

In this discussion on "global climate change" I was disappointed that the most important dots in this big picture were never connected to expose the real impending catastrophic danger in all of this_ _ _ Methane-hydrate Release along the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.
This destabilizing [runaway] feedback process is already underway...

For more information see the following YouTube videos:
1. Methane Hydrates - Extended Interview Extracts with Natalia Shakhova, 2012
2. Arctic Death Spiral & Methane Time Bomb

Feb. 07 2014 10:56 PM

Climate change denial may indeed be a case of agenda trumping science and sound public policy. There is another such case, at least as egregious, where political, social and financial pressures have, to an incredible extent, been allowed to triumph over public health. This is the whitewashing and effective promotion-- government sanctioned and taxpayer funded -- of the anatomically and physiologically unsound, inherently unhygienic and inordinately disease-promoting act of anal penetration.

The contrast between how these two cases are treated, in general but also specifically right here on WNYC and, particularly, on this very program as well as the publication that Mr. Mooney writes for, is striking and quite instructive.

@ John A.:

First of all, let's try a little exercise. Imagine, if you will, that I had made the same posts but with one key difference: Instead of contrasting /buggery/ with climate change, my posts had instead contrasted a /different/ example of agenda, ideology or vested interest triumphing over the public good. An example that enjoyed the status of being well-within the bounds of "approved", politically and socially correct, discourse. Let's say, the role of corporate farming practices in antibiotic resistance or any other number of public health issues.

Do you think my posts would be removed the way they are now? Removed, sometimes within minutes of appearing, without any warning or explanation (despite repeated inquiries)

Regarding being on-topic, perhaps if you were to read the first paragraph of this post of mine, carefully, you might at least reconsider your assertion.

But let's say, for the sake of argument, that the posts I made to this page today /could/ reasonably be considered off-topic. There would still remain any number of /other/ posts of mine on the topic in question (the thuggery that is buggery) for which anyone with even a shred of objectivity would have to concede that invoking "off-topic" could hardly be a more transparent /pretext/.

Finally, what is at issue here is the /content/ of my posts; the information I present, the questions I raise. Not my emotional health. Raising it is a way of avoiding the substance in my posts; dodging the questions they raise.

(To paraphrase George Galloway, /buggery/ is still the issue.)

But thanks for the concern nonetheless.

Feb. 07 2014 05:21 PM
John A.

You are asking to have yourself deleted from the page on the basis of being (severely) off topic. Hope you are emotionally OK, appearances say other.

Feb. 07 2014 02:54 PM
John A. from The 1% continent.

I tried looking up an old Tom Toles cartoon on how political inactivity messed up the Acid Rain situation (this situation is much worse)...
Instead, Google served me mainly Toles on Global Warming, including this great one, and there are better ones too:

Just say Google Toles global warming images.
My personal frustration on this is enormous. Humor sometimes needed.

Feb. 07 2014 01:59 PM
Amy from Manhattan

It's not just how hot the Earth gets, it's how fast it's getting hot--faster than at any earlier time, according to ice core records (which also show that climate changes on Earth don't correlate w/fluctuation in solar activity). Past instances of warming have been slow enough for life to adapt. This one may not be.

The warming of the planet's average temperature is putting more water vapor into the atmosphere, which may have more to do w/increased snow than local temperature does.

Feb. 07 2014 01:49 PM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey


"But if you want a CO2 neutral #2 Diesel/heating oil fuel, legalize hemp!"

Again??? What makes you think that growing the amount of hemp required to make a gallon of hemp oil consumes as much CO2 as is produced when that gallon of hemp oil is burned?

I have been looking at the feasibility of 'helping' nature remove the CO2 from the atmosphere. [Disclaimer: I AM NOT A CLIMATE SCIENTIST, NOR DID I COLLECT THE DATA.] I have just looked up the references (mostly from Wolfram Alpha) and did the math.

It takes 799 kilojoules/mole of CO2 to break the carbon-oxygen bonds. Burning a gallon of gas release approximately 20 pounds of CO2 - (diesel produces about 3 pounds more per gallon). Do the math and you get about 165,000 kilojoules to break the bonds of the CO2 produced from burning a gallon of gas. How much is 165,000 kj? Again, Wolfram Alpha converts this to 7.61x10^-23 kilowatt-hours. This seems to me a trivial amount of energy. My original thought had been to erect some form of atmospheric processor - run by non-carbon producing energy, that is wind or solar or geothermal, to crack the excess CO2 back into carbon and O2. However, since this amount of energy is miniscule, perhaps there is a chemical engineer that can come up with a small 'cracking chamber' that can be driven by a vehicles own electrical system.

What we do with all the carbon dust is the next problem. We certainly don't want it in the atmosphere, either.

Feb. 07 2014 01:10 PM
Eric Tolnes from Staten Island

I don't deny the existence of climate change and that we're in a warming trend, but we've been in a warming trend since the peak of the last ice age at which time New York And London were covered with a glacier thousands of feet thick. There have been many ice ages and during the periods between them the earth has been a hell of a lot warmer than is is now. So warm in fact, that one can find fossils of alligator and crocodile ancestors in Alaska. Nobody put them there.
The debate should not be about how we've contributed to warming (little if at all) and who's to blame, but about how we're going to adapt to it. The current panic about global warming is analogous to a mosquito, born at night, panicking about it getting brighter and brighter as the day goes on.

Feb. 07 2014 01:00 PM

I expect there were various others too, but I think I was one of the earliest scientists to predict this kind of climate variability we're now seeing, and popular misreading of it. In any natural system there are multiple scale of variation, sometimes for the system as a whole, sometimes for collections of parts. The data won't distinguish necessarily, but the tendency that system change is "elastic" and swings in one direction will be followed by reactions in the other is highly probable.

Your comment that these larger scale changes we're now seeing, "may stick around longer", is then a bit misleading to people trying to plan on them. It's then also likely that their reversal may stick around longer after that as well.

We've really screwed up the climate already is part of what we're figuring out. ....and... predictable from the elasticity of the curves... we are also very likely to put as much more CO2 into the atmosphere than ever before in history, before we learn how to turn an economy still accelerating our rate of producing it....

Feb. 07 2014 12:42 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Has Marketplace's Sustainability Desk been asked to join Climate Desk? They've done good work on this issue, & I think they would be a good addition.

Feb. 07 2014 12:40 PM
Geo from Washington Heights

How does the Obama administration think it will help with climate change when they are still promoting Tar Sands oil, the various pipelines, and the incredibly destructive infrastructure for natural gas tracking.

Thanks Leni for just mentioning this while I type.

Feb. 07 2014 12:39 PM

When the Sun gets warmer, the Earth gets warmer.
The CO2 models don't work. The Gore graphs show a 25 year lag: 25 years after warming the CO2 goes up.
But if you want a CO2 neutral #2 Diesel/heating oil fuel, legalize hemp!

Feb. 07 2014 12:34 PM
sy from uws

maybe another expression of 'American Exceptionalism'?

Feb. 07 2014 12:30 PM
John A.

Asaf soof,
I think we are identifying here, yet again, that in the mind of the US populace, the problem is an increase in Bad information, that is, politicized and falsified information.
- - -
Actually, climate scientists are very skilled in dealing with missing and uncertain data, using tools such as interpolation, extrapolation and 'error confidences'.

Feb. 07 2014 12:26 PM
Cory from Adirondacks

Snow does not correlate with cold weather. In the Adirondacks we have an observation: "It's too cold to snow." Cold weather is usually clear and dry. It has to warm up from frontal passage for warmer damper air to intrude to produce snow. Thus, the fact of a lot of snow storms probably reflects higher, rather than lower temperatures.

Feb. 07 2014 12:21 PM
Jerry from NYC

what about sun activity fluctuating?

Feb. 07 2014 12:20 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Climate =/= weather
Global =/= uniform

"Global warming" is an unfortunate term, leaving an opening for claims that cold weather anywhere disproves it. A better name for what's going on is "global climate disruption."

Feb. 07 2014 12:20 PM
Asaf soof from Times Sq

Is it possible that all we have is more info, compared with prior decades?
Is it possible that these weather patterns happened before, we just never were able to measure?


Feb. 07 2014 12:17 PM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

Just yesterday, I caught Hannity smirkingly say "So much for global warming...". How do we make progress against the threats if the doubters gird themselves in their ignorance?

Feb. 07 2014 12:15 PM
John A.

It has seemed this simple to me:
Increased atmospheric Energy is increased Heat + Wind energy.
Low energy atmosphere moves smoothly and predictably, high energy moves chaoticaly, meaning big storms at odd times.

Feb. 07 2014 12:15 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Could you ask your guest if he knows how solar panels are faring in this bad weather, especially with all the snow.

Feb. 07 2014 12:13 PM
Joe Mirsky from Pompton Lakes, NJ

“A surface layer of water 100 meters thick, covering most of the oceanic basin between Labrador and Greenland, was found to be about five degrees Centigrade warmer than normal. This represents an additional heat reservoir of tremendous proportions and one that is bound to have far-reaching climatic effects.”
This is from an article in Science, November 16, 1928 by Lt. Commander Edward H. Smith who commanded the Coast Guard Cutter Marion’s Expedition to the Arctic.

The Marion expedition measured depth, ocean currents, temperature and salinity from July 7 to September 18, 1928, with over 2000 measurements taken at 191 stations over an 8100 mile course. A detailed technical report was published in 3 parts.

Feb. 07 2014 12:13 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.