In Washington, even a snowstorm is a political event. The record snowstorms that have blanketed the capital and shut down cities across the Mid-Atlantic have already sparked a new round of sparring between supporters and skeptics in the global-warming debate.
As city residents trudge through blizzards and shovel out stranded cars, climate-change skeptics have been tossing verbal snowballs at those arguing that the planet is heating up and that human activity is to blame.
Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and a global warming skeptic, acknowledged that one weather event is not enough to prove or disprove the climate-change thesis, but noted that “global-warming alarmists” tend to take any severe-weather incident - heat waves, cold snaps, droughts and floods - as evidence supporting their position.
Mr. Ebell noted that the Washington area is enduring a colder winter than usual. The region typically gets a lot of precipitation this time of year, but it does not typically produce such heavy snowfall.
On the defensive, climate-change experts dismiss the idea that a temporary cold snap and a pair of freakish snowstorms undermine what they say are clear long-term trends. The severity of the recent weather, they say, in fact supports the global-warming argument.
Joseph Romm, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for the Weather Underground, a Web-based forecasting site, said in a teleconference for reporters Thursday that the recent weather patterns do not refute the global-warming thesis.
“Scientific literature predicts that you will see more intense weather,” said Mr. Romm.
Global-warming backers note that the same skeptics who point to Washington’s snowfall rarely bring up the weather in Vancouver, where an unseasonably warm spell has complicated efforts to guarantee enough snow for some events as the Winter Olympic Games that open Friday.
“It may in fact rain during the Olympics,” Mr. Romm said.
He said global temperatures and trends have to be studied over the longer term to determine the possibility of global warming. Those trends, he said, do show that the world is in the midst of a significant warming trend.
“Weather is not climate,” he said.
Added Mr. Masters, “There is a huge amount of natural variability in the climate system.”
But lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have questioned the climate-change theory have used the snow to make hay.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and perhaps the Senate’s leading global-warming skeptic, took to the Senate floor Thursday to denounce the Obama administration’s climate policies. He noted during his remarks the igloo his family had built on the Mall.
The snow house bore the sign “Al Gore’s new home” - a shot at the former vice president and leading climate-change activist. Asked about the igloo later on Fox News, Mr. Inhofe observed, “Some people just can’t take a joke.”
Climate-change skeptics such as Mr. Inhofe have been on the offensive in recent months after a series of leaked e-mails showed leading climate-change researchers apparently discussing how to manipulate the scientific data to strengthen the case for global warming. In another incident, a major U.N. study included a major error on the rate of glacier melting and had not been “peer-reviewed” by other scientists prior to its publication.
Mr. Romm defended the extensive U.N. study, while acknowledging the glacier-melting error had slipped through.
“It is very difficult for [the report] to be error-free,” he said, and argued the wealth of climate-change research being published indicate that the problem is real.
But CEI’s Mr. Ebell said the recent incidents had contributed to a large loss of credibility for the global-warming theory.
“These are claims that are being shown to be without scientific basis,” Mr. Ebell said.