Weather isn’t climate

Wasn’t the weekend beautiful?OK — full disclosure — I wrote this last Tuesday. But, if my desktop weather report turns out to be remotely accurate, it will indeed have been quite beautiful.Anyway, I hope you had a great time this weekend because, unfortunately, I found those shockingly nice days a little depressing. Sadly, I was unable to spend the weekend with the one person I wanted to most — Senator James Inhofe. Had the Oklahoman senator serendipitously arrived at North Beach on one of those 30-degrees-above-average days, then and only then would I have felt complete.You see, Inhofe is the Senate’s resident global warming denier. He’s called it the “greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people,” and, during Washington’s recent “Snowmageddon,” he recruited his grandchildren for an important task — building an igloo near the capitol with a sign saying “Al Gore’s New Home.”Of course, you can’t choose your atmospheric outliers.Had Inhofe been in Burlington for our little patch of early summer, perhaps we could have gotten him to concede what every kindergartener already knows — the weather and the climate are different.  And that’s the kicker. This seemingly elementary bit of knowledge has actually hamstrung environmentalists. In theory, people understand the difference between weather and climate. But in reality, it’s easy to mix them up. “Climate” is an abstraction, and people give it meaning through their concrete experiences with the “weather.” For example, The New York Times recently covered the growing divide between meteorologists and climatologists. As it turns out, meteorologists — who cover short-term weather patterns — are significantly more likely to be global warming skeptics than their long-term counterparts. Americans follow a similar track. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who believe that the “seriousness of global warming” has been “generally exaggerated” has shot up to 48 percent over the last year. That’s almost 20 points higher than in 2006. Now that’s somewhat understandable — according to NASA’s recently released data, the 2009-2010 winter was the U.S.’s coldest in 25 years. But there’s an obvious problem with this approach to the issue — it uses a very thin lens.  Take NASA’s data for the winter as a whole and — surprise, surprise — things were still unusually warm. Like, really warm. In fact, after the 2006-2007 winter, this past season was the warmest since the start of record keeping.  Take a look at NASA’s winter-long map and you’ll see a swath of blue,  indicating below normal temperatures, stretching across the U.S., Northern Europe, and well, nowhere else. Just a whole lot of red. And perversely, while our winter was unusually cold, Canada had the warmest winter on record! So the main point is simple: keep the focus zoomed out. Through that lens the picture is exceptionally clear.  And if Inhofe and company can’t follow those simple directions, then we might just need to send them back to kindergarten.