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Policy: Environment & Energy

Op-Ed: Trouble in the troposphere

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Energy and Environment

The latest political catchphrase floating about is "dirty weather," as in Mr. Al Gore's claim that "Dirty energy makes dirty weather." Any big meteorological event deemed out of the ordinary is tagged with this moniker to designate the event as a product of man-made climate change. Of course Hurricane Sandy got the label, even though the storm's dynamics and timing were not as extremely unusual and unexpected as folks were led to believe.

Perceptive forecasters like Joseph D'Aleo and Joe Bastardi of Weatherbell Analytics had warned that the United States was overdue for hurricane effects in the Northeast based on their analysis of natural (not man-made) climate conditions related to ocean circulation changes in the northern Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

And, tropical storms and hurricanes have hit the New England area and New York City in particular a number of times in the distant past (the 1938 "Great New England Hurricane," the 1893 New York hurricane and the 1821 New York City hurricane, to name a few). These were at times when people were not believed to be powerful enough to control the climate.

Regardless of the storyline ballyhooed at the United Nations' recent Framework Convention on Climate Change in Qatar, it's not clear that human activity can substantially change the globe's long-term climate; however, it is clear that human activity has changed the field of climatology.

Today, it's hard for the politically minded to pass up an opportunity to control the people; and, climate science is one of the convenient tools for such control by the U.N. and other big-government advocates. Thus, we have sound-bite science using phrases like "dirty weather." Such science has a certain flexibility and slow-wittedness to it that both allows it to apply to weather events when it's convenient (like the near-record-topping tornado outbreak of 2011, as opposed to the near-record-low number of tornadoes in 2012) and skips the deep thinking that is necessary when investigating a complex system like the Earth's climate.

Fortunately, authentic scientific practice is harder and sharper than the contemporary political philosophy behind pop-culture climatology. Authentic science includes both theory and practice, and importantly avoids the influence of politics as much as humanly possible. That way, new, dependable scientific and technological advancements can be accomplished. Otherwise, science and society become mired in poli-babble and spin.

So, with respect to climate science conclusions served up to the general public, we can forget about "dirty weather." Rather, as scientists and concerned citizens, we need to be wary of feeding the unsuspecting public "dirty politics."

Veteran meteorologist Anthony J. Sadar is author of "In Global Warming We Trust: A Heretic's Guide to Climate Science" (Telescope Books, 2012).

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