Thursday, October 30, 2014

Libertarians Sue White House over Climate Change Video

A libertarian think tank has sued the White House over a video that claimed global warming might be tied to last year’s extreme cold spell, commonly referred to as the “polar vortex. ”

The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s lawsuit filed Wednesday says White House Office of Science and Technology director John Holdren was wrong when, in the January video, he cited a “growing body of evidence” linking the so-called “polar vortex” to climate change. Specifically, Holdren said he believes that the United States will see “more of this pattern of extreme cold” as global warming gets worse.  The group also says OSTP Senior Communications Advisor Becky Fried was wrong to make the same claim in a White House blog post published at around the same time.

The reason Holdren and Fried likely made this claim is, in fact, because there is a growing body of evidence that links global warming to an increased likelihood of more mid-latitude cold fronts.  Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Science, has been publishing peer-reviewed papers for years about what she believes are ripple effects of a warming Arctic — ripple effects that make weird weather events more likely in different parts of the world.

Her research claims that Arctic warming affects the jet stream, which determines local weather.  She theorizes that the warming causes a less drastic change in temperatures between northern and southern climates, leading to weakened west-to-east winds, and then, a wavier jet stream.  A wavy jet stream can bring the Arctic’s coldness down to the temperate United States, leaving Alaska and the Arctic strangely warm, and the United States strangely cold.  She says this will happen more often as global warming worsens.

It’s not settled science.  In fact, it’s disputed by some well-respected climatologists, including Dr. Kevin E. Trenberth, a distinguished senior climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.  In January, when the polar vortex was at its peak in the United States, Trenberth told Climate Progress that he was skeptical of Francis’ assessment, and that it showed “a correlation, but correlation is not causation.”

Holdren acknowledges the uncertainty in the video over which his employer is now being sued.  “As in all science, there will be continuing debate as to exactly what is happening,” Holdren said.  “But I believe the odds are that we can expect, as a result of global warming, to see more of this pattern of extreme cold in the mid-latitudes and extreme warm in the far north.”

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