Anyone who has experienced one of the recent extreme cold snaps might be forgiven for asking: what ever happened to global warming? Sceptics of the call for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gases have jumped on the recent weather as proof that talk of global warming is nonsense. But scientists say weather extremes, hot and cold, are not surprising.
Climate expert Dave Britton said: “What we expect from climate change is we’ll see weather extremes increase into the future. Now, what exactly that means for the instance of cold winters, or very hot summers, is still not fully understood. But we would expect certainly hot summers to increase and instances of very cold winters to decrease. However, it doesn’t rule out the fact that you will still see cold winters despite climate change.”
There are some scientists who are convinced that widespread theories on global warming are wrong. However, the huge majority of climate experts say you cannot simply focus on the last heavy snowfall in one part of the world.
When you look at a graph of global temperature variations, on a yearly basis, there are lots of ups and downs. The same data, shown as five-year averages, clearly indicates an upward trend. And when both graphs are combined, those ups and downs that occur over a year do not seem so exceptional. The general trend of rising temperatures is plain to see.
Also, scientists say an exceptional snowfall can be explained by the presence of warmer air, which can hold more moisture, and then trigger large amounts of snow or rain. Experts also have this warning to those making conclusions about climate change: look at the global picture, not the local one.
Dave Britton said: “It hasn’t been cold everywhere: some parts of the globe have actually been warmer than average, and if you look at the balance as a whole you will not see any real changes in the global temperatures on this scale. In fact, early figures for January suggest that we are probably seeing an above-average January in terms of global temperatures.”
But just as one scientist puts forward that point of view, another has a completely different one. One thing is certain: there will continue to be fierce debate about climate change and its consequences.