Does America's Extreme Cold Mean That Climate Change Is A Myth?

According to climate sceptics, record cold temperatures and snowfall are proof that global warming isn't real. The sceptics are wrong.

The theory goes like this: the fact that some areas are being blasted with record cold is proof that human-caused climate change is not real.

US President Donald Trump has tweeted as much on numerous occasions, claiming record cold and snow is a sign climate change is a hoax.

Trump was wishing for more global warming just last week, as extreme snowstorms pummel the American midwest, forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights and blanketing areas in up to 70 centimetres of snow.

Huge snowfall has covered parts of the United States (Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Indeed, he once tweeted the term was altered to 'climate change', his inference being that climate alarmists had invented a new term to suit their argument.

Leaving aside the irony of claiming "record low temperatures" as an argument against the existence of climate change -- does he have a point?

Experts say no, on two fronts.

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Firstly, warming is occurring. Despite remarkable cold conditions in the USA in recent winters, temperatures overall across the globe are rising on average.

"Global warming describes an average temperature increase of the Earth over time. Climate change describes how weather patterns will be affected around the globe," the North Carolina Climate Office said.

"Global warming is just one aspect of climate change," said the US Geological Survey.

Climate change has been blamed for more frequent and fierce fires (ROB GRIFFITH/AFP/Getty Images)

Scientists first identified the effect of carbon dioxide trapping heat in the atmosphere as far back as the late 19th century, with the term 'global warming' coined and coming into common usage.

However, during the 1990s, the term "climate change" was deliberately adopted by climate sceptics to take the word "warming" out of the equation and deliberately sow doubt among the public about the source of said warming -- to make it seem like it was caused by natural cycles of the type the planet has always had.

The terms have now become more or less interchangeable, but as experts point out, there are some important differences.

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"In the scientific world, both terms are used. There’s a place for global warming and a place for climate change," said Professor Janet Bornman, a climate change expert and director of Murdoch University's Future Legumes Research program.

"When you're in the general public, global warming is probably more appropriate. People are noticing the climate is very variable."

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Scientists strive to explain the difference between climate and weather, to help people understand how one cold day doesn't mean the globe isn't generally warming.

One parallel drawn is 'weather is your outfit today while climate is your wardrobe' -- that weather is short-term but climate should  be assessed with a longer and wider view.

"Climate change and global warming are often used interchangeably but have distinct meanings," said NASA's Global Climate Change program, outlining how 'global warming' relates to long-term planetary warming and 'climate change' to changes like rising sea levels, loss of sea ice, and extreme weather.

Bornman said the two terms co-exist, rather than being synonyms.

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"Global warming can become confusing to people. The earth is warming but only in certain areas, changing the atmosphere and water currents, and that's what's causing cold when you shouldn't have cold. The warming is actually doing that," she told 10 daily.

"What was warm becomes cold, and currents become cold because of winds and ocean expansion, which is because of heating. This isn't an easy message to get through to people."

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Professor Martina Doblin , an oceanography expert at the University of Technology Sydney, said global warming is an easier concept for ordinary folk to understand.

"It's not to intentionally simplify what's going on, but that that is the first thing coral reefs for example will experience," she told 10 daily.

"There will be massive changes in heat in the ocean, so it prioritises the changes that will be most impactful first."

Young activists during a Childrens Rally For Climate in Dublin (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Doblin claimed climate sceptics heaping scorn on science by poking fun at global warming was harming efforts to inform and mobilise people to take action, but also admitted scientists had a duty to explain the science in a clearer way to help regular people understand.

"Our job as scientists, if we're honest, is to say 'despite the complexity, there is overwhelming evidence the climate is changing at unprecedented rates'," she said.

"It’s reasonable to ask a scientist to explain. I think everyday citizens need the means to understand this. We can adequately explain this, and not just simplify it but make it understood by people who are not scientists."

Bornman agreed.

"A huge amount needs to be done. Scientists tend to not communicate, they don't get why nobody can understand it," she said.

"There are a few excellent scientists who publish for popular publications, but they're few and far between. For a scientists to drop their terminology and explain simply, it takes some thinking and it's not being done. Scientists need to take it on themselves to make sure the public understands."