Biggest news you've never heard: Earth isn't warming

Nati Harnik/AP
Three-year-old Audrey Carson of Omaha samples unusually early snow in Omaha, Neb., Saturday, Oct. 10, 2009. Several inches of snow accumulated in Omaha.

How do you reconcile the early snow in Minneapolis, ski resorts already opening in Nevada, and that August chill in North Dakota with expert warnings about a warming climate?

You don’t. Why? The Earth isn’t warming right now, is why. It may even be cooling down somewhat.

Five major climate centers around the world agree that average global temperatures have not risen in the past 11 years, according to the BBC. In fact, in eight of those years, global average temperatures dipped a tad.

Yes, there have been several record heat spikes during that time period. The Southern Hemisphere this summer saw the highest land and water temperatures ever recorded, for instance. But overall? Steady as she goes.

Reasons cited range from a slightly cooling Pacific -- a major global heat trap -- as well as renewed questions about the sun’s role in warming (about which there is much debate). Also, it’s possible, some say, that warming itself causes CO2 levels -- which are associated with warming -- instead of the other way around.

As a result, “The depth of the cold of the coming winters will change the social and political climate in ways that only nature can orchestrate,” predicts meteorologist Art Horn.

To be sure, it’s way too early to close one’s ears to those who predict more global warming and sea level rises. The UN's climate agency predicts that from 2010 to 2015 at least half the years will be hotter than the current hottest year on record, which was 1998. And as most of us know, the Earth warmed at historic rates in the latter half of the 20th century, leading to ice cap melts and ecological implications around the globe.

But the warming stall, some experts say, is giving at least some credence to the contrarian (and not always scientifically sound) notion that it may be natural and solar forces contributing as much, or more, than man-made CO2. At the very least, a delay in warming even as total CO2 emissions increase, throws some doubt on the cause-and-effect relationship between mankind’s activities and mean global temperatures.

Climate specialists say their models incorporate all this, and insist their predictions for continued warming will still hold true. (Here’s some data from the Guardian about why the “global warming is taking a break” theme may be off-base.)

Meteorologists at the UK’s Hadley Centre, for instance, point out that global temperatures aren’t linear, and that all data sets -- including solar phenomenon and ocean temperatures -- indicate that warming will soon pick up again.

But as Paul Hudson, the BBC’s environment reporter, points out, Mojib Latif, a member of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agrees that the Earth may, in fact, continue to cool for another 10 to 20 years. Mr. Latif says that doesn’t make him a climate change skeptic, just a scientist. Eventually, he says, “the overwhelming force of man-made global warming reasserts itself,” according to the BBC.

Obviously, climate change has global ecological and political implications. The cap-and-trade bill and new auto emissions rules in the US are direct responses to climate implications of CO2. December’s Copenhagen climate conference will try to seek renewed global commitment to CO2 reduction.

Taken together, what does it all mean?

“Climate change -- no matter how benign or severe a course it takes -- makes legislating during the 21st century one of the most complicated and complex tasks for elected officials in human history,” writes Morgan Josey Glover in the Greensboro, N.C., News-Record newspaper.


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