Sunday, March 1, 2015

Senator Jim Inhofe needs better glasses: A snowball cannot refute climate science

Sen. Jim Inhofe and his poor vision (ABC News)
Senator Jim Inhofe needs better glasses.  It appears that he's having a hard time seeing past his own nose.

In an attempt to refute climate science, Inhofe took a snowball out of a bag while speaking on the Senate floor on the 26th of February, 2015, and said, "I ask the chair, you know what this is? It’s a snowball, just from outside here. So it’s very, very cold out."  Inhofe appears to be suggesting that the occurrence of snow this winter in Washington D.C. negates the wealth of evidence and scientific understanding about the human influence on global climate.  It really seems that, if anything, Inhofe's stunt is just another reason to shake our heads at the lack of vision amongst some of our politicians.

This isn't the first time that Inhofe has tried to make some statement regarding his belief that scientists have fabricated anthropogenic impacts on the global climate.  Back in 2010, Inhofe and his family built a snow fort on the lawn of the National Mall in a mockery of climate science.  They called this snow fort "Al Gore's New Home".  In fact, Inhofe has been making such statements and attempted jabs throughout his political career.  Inhofe has been the Chair for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works since 2003.  It's somewhat bewildering to think that someone who honestly believes a snowball can refute all of modern climate science can also hold the highest rank within a Senate committee which requires knowledge of the environment.  Here's a video of Bill Maher from back in 2009 where he considers climate change deniers, including Inhofe:

Maher's bashing of Inhofe is more than warranted.  To better understand the Anthropocene and the impacts of industrialization and human activities on the environment we must have scientifically literate world leaders.  Infrastructure development, coastal economies, weather-related dangers and costs, growing seasons and crop yields, and far more will all be impacted by the global climate.  Politicians like Inhofe are a threat to the future of our species and to our biosphere.  We need leaders who can see that there is more to the world than their own day-to-day experiences.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse: A leader with greater vision

At least not everyone on the Senate Committee for Environment and Public Works has poor vision.  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a politician from Rhode Island, took the Senate floor to rebut Inhofe's remarks later in that same day.  Senator Whitehouse has given many speeches on the Senate floor in support of science literacy and education with regard to the current and future effects of anthropogenic climate change.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Image: Stephen Crowley/NY Times)
Senator Whitehouse took out his iPad and brought up an image from the Earth-Now app, a free application developed by NASA to share global climate data with anyone and everyone (you can use this app to see where several of our Earth observing satellites are in their orbits and to map various physicochemical parameters such as air temperature, CO, CO2, sea surface salinity, and ozone).  Whitehouse points out that you can use this app to see the current polar vortex in the Arctic and how the cold air is being driven down to New England.  Whitehouse, highlighting the fact that these basic climate data are available from NASA, then said, " can believe NASA and you can believe what their satellites measure on the planet, or you can believe the Senator with the snowball."  

Indeed, Senator Whitehouse then points out four more instances in which one can side with a group or organization which supports the wealth of information from climate science or one can side with "the Senator with the snowball".  Although I usually oppose this pitting of side-vs-side on political issues (most issues are more complex than yes-or-no or red-and-blue), Senator Whitehouse is definitely a skilled speaker and gives a strong argument in support of scientific literacy from more than just the scientific viewpoint.  Here is Whitehouse's rebuttal:

Take home point from Whitehouse's rebuttal: you simply can't be scientifically literate if you agree with the Senator with the snowball.  The occurrence of snow on a winter day in Washington D.C. does not refute our knowledge of the changing climate.  2014 is now the hottest year on record, with higher average global temperatures than any previously recorded since the 1800s.  We still have the seasons and we're still going to experience hot summers and cold winters, but the general trend of warming at the global scale is still occurring.  It's hopeful to think that we at least have some politicians, like Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who support a scientifically literate populace and leadership with greater vision.

Frosty the Snowman has no idea about climate science

Let's face it, Frosty the Snowman was only imbued with knowledge about winter.  Still, in his various incarnations, Frosty has always known well enough to take off before the warming temperatures destroyed him because that's how the seasons work in the regions of our planet that get snow in the winter.  

We can learn a lot from the snow.  We can measure the pH of the water composing the snow and can study the particles of dust and debris mixed into the snow to learn about the chemistry of the clouds and the atmosphere where that snow formed.  However, a snowball, in and of itself, is not a refutation of modern science, science literacy, or our combined knowledge of the human impacts to the global climate.

There's plenty of snow here in Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A. right now.  Maybe I'll go outside and make a snowball, without any pretensions that the weather in my backyard means that everywhere else is the same.  If you'd like a good laugh, here is some climate science denier busting by John Oliver of Last Week Tonight:

You can find 5 hilarious moments of climate denial busting, including the videos from Bill Maher and John Oliver that I posted in this blog, from Forecast the Facts at this link.

Update: 3 March 2015

Looks like I beat the Daily Show to pointing out the ridiculousness of Jim Inhofe's little snowball stunt:

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