Science Scene: Global climate change is evidenced by cold weather

Paepin Goff

As cold weather descends on Austin, UT students break out UGG boots, The North Face jackets and trendy scarves. Along with near-freezing temperatures, the arctic cold front may bring out skepticism regarding climate change. 

In fact, some people may be quick to point to frigid weather as evidence contrary to global warming.

While low temperatures are a break from the record highs that scorch Austin every year, they don’t change the scientific evidence of an upward trend in global temperatures. Extensive data from NASA and the NOAA shows the most recent decade of Earth’s history has been the warmest since the 1880s, when temperature data was first recorded.

So, how is it so cold outside today if global warming is truly happening? In order to answer that question, it’s critical to understand the distinction between climate and weather.

Climate is a description of long-term atmospheric conditions, measured on a 10-year basis or longer. Weather, on the other hand, is what happens in the atmosphere from day to day. If it’s cold and cloudy when you go outside today, you’re experiencing cold weather — not cold climate.

In fact, colder temperatures in a local area could be caused by the same activities that cause global warming. People are throwing off the balance of Earth’s entire climate system, which can lead to erratic consequences beyond just temperature change.

According to the world’s top climate science experts, today’s shift in climate is overwhelmingly attributed to human beings, which is called anthropogenic climate change. 

To understand why Earth’s overall temperatures shift naturally, it’s critical to look at Earth’s relationship with the sun. The seasons we experience each year exist because of Earth’s tilt, which affects how much of the sun’s energy reaches the planet. The United States is in the Northern Hemisphere, so, during the winter, our hemisphere tilts away from the sun, and less heat is absorbed. 

The difference between the natural climate variability and human-induced climate change is exactly what climate scientists distinguish with increasing accuracy each year. Today, the IPCC reports over 97 percent of climate scientists agree climate change is attributed to human activity.

While it may seem like global warming is incompatible with abnormal weather, it’s actually further evidence that climate change is happening.