On July 8, conservative columnist George Will made use of his television pulpit to declare that the blistering heat of the last month had nothing to do with climate change, that it was only a spot of weather. Will asked rhetorically, “How do we explain the heat?” His answer:
One word: summer…. I grew up in central Illinois in a house without air conditioning. What is so unusual about this? Come the winter, there will be a cold snap, lots of snow, and the same guys like E.J. will start lecturing us: ‘There’s a difference between the weather and the climate!’ I agree with that. We’re having some hot weather. Get over it.
Is George Will right? Certainly what happens in any particular month, be it a snowstorm in winter or a heat wave in summer, is what’s meant by the word “weather,” so George Will is definitionally correct there. But if a snowstorm in winter packs a bigger wallop than usual, and if winters in recent years have been cooler than normal, then it’s not just weather: it would hypothetically be part of a snowier trend in the longer-term climate. Conversely, if a month in summer is hotter than usual, and if summers in recent years have been hotter than normal, then it’s not just “having some hot weather.” It would be part of a longer-term trend of a warming climate.
So let’s fact check George Will — and let’s start with winter. Despite what conservatives say whenever there’s a snowstorm, recent winters have been warmer than usual around the globe. As a matter of observed fact in NASA’s temperature record, it’s been 27 years since there was a winter colder around the globe than the 1951-1980 average. That’s right — we’ve had 27 years straight of warmer-than-average winters. We’ve had only 5 winters colder than the 1951-1980 average winter in the last 40 years. That’s not weather. That’s a climate trend.
And now let’s turn our attention to summer. The first month of the year with summer in it is June — and wouldn’t you know it, but just this past week NASA has released its latest temperature anomaly readings, adding in measurements of global temperature change for the month of June 2012. It turns out that, not just in the United States but around the globe, June 2012 wasn’t just “summer.” June 2012 was warmer than the 1951-1980 average for June. It was hot, even for summer. How hot? June 2012 was the 4th hottest summer in the 133 years of NASA’s global temperature record. Not one of the top ten hottest Junes around the globe occurred before 1990. The last June that was cooler than the 1951-1980 June average was 28 years ago. There are have been only 5 summers cooler than the 1951-1980 average over the last 40 years.
Want to go farther back? Turns out that every one of the Junes between 1880 and 1930 was cooler than the 1951-1980 average. Turns out that every one of the winters between 1880 and 1925 was cooler than the 1951-1980 average.
What happened last winter and what happened this June are not just weather. They’re part of a remarkably consistent longer-term trend in climate change. It’s called “global warming” — and the climate pattern of global warming is becoming so clear that even the staunchest global warming deniers have started packing it in. Why is George Will still denying the obvious? You’ll have to ask him.