Between the record low temperatures and the need to rescue researchers whose ship was trapped in a thicker-than-expected Antarctic ice field, the past few weeks have tested the faith of even the most devout global-warming disciples.
Their orthodoxy seems to have survived. The same cannot be said for their credibility.
“A growing body of evidence suggests that the kind of extreme cold experienced by much of the United States . . . is a pattern we can expect to see with increasing frequency as global warming continues,” predicted President Obama's science and technical advisor, Dr. John Holgren.
“Winters still get cold, often unbearably cold . . . but no matter how low the temperature dropped in your area, that doesn't mean global warming isn't happening,” the Weather Channel warned.
“It's bitterly cold. Horrifically cold! So what does this tell us about global warming?
Not much,” agreed the Washington Post.
As for the global-warming expedition stuck in ice, the media didn't even try to explain it. Ninety-eight percent of the reports simply ignored trip's mission: to “discover and communicate the environmental changes taking place in the south,” according to a survey by the right-leaning Media Research Center.
Rush Limbaugh and other conservative commentators have pounced on the opportunity to portray such people as zealots who have turned environmentalism into a religion based more on faith than fact. And to a degree they're right: It's been well-documented how some scientists have fudged statistics to “prove” their thesis – even though it's pretty clear the earth has not warmed for the past 17 years or so.
Still, Limbaugh's critics have a valid point: Drawing sweeping conclusions from an isolated event – even one as far-reaching as this month's “polar vortex” – can lead to faulty conclusions. As the Post noted, the U.S. and other countries have been brutally cold, but other areas of the world have been experiencing above-average temperatures.
If only those same critics would hold themselves to the same standard.
“The Earth is saying something with record heat, drought, storms and fire,” the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote in 2012 in its attempt to mobilize support – and donations.
But if record cold means nothing, cannot the same be said for other equally anecdotal evidence?
Dire predictions of hurricanes fueled by global warming have not materialized, after all, and even the lefty Mother Jones magazine reports that “new research . . . has given indications that the hurricane picture under climate change may be more complicated than previously supposed.”
As for tornadoes, California Sen. Barbara Boxer and others have linked them to global warming, too. But the New York Times reports that strong tornadoes have become less common in the past 60 years.
And Time Magazine – which blamed this month's vortex on global warming – attributed a similar vortex in 1974 to what was then climatologists' favorite doomsday scenario: global cooling and the coming of a new ice age.
And was it really only last month that the Greenpeace environmental group was warning children that Santa might be unable to bring them gifts because the North Pole was melting?
Serious people, in other words, can and will disagree about whether or to what degree the degree the Earth is warming – and whether that change is man-made or natural. Unfortunately, orthodoxy is demanded by those who brand skeptics “deniers” or “blathering idiots” (as Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., did recently on the House floor). As a result, the U.S. spent $7.45 billion between 2010 and 2012 to help poor countries cope with climate change -- with what, exactly, to show for it?
It will be interesting to see the reaction should this summer be hotter, stormier, drier or wetter than usual. Any of which, you can be sure, will be hailed as a sure sign of the coming apocalypse by the some of the same people who today are insisting that it wasn't nearly as cold as you thought it was.