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Robinson: Dire signs from a warming world

  • (DREW SHENEMAN / Newark Star-Ledger)

Another insane cold wave — not the infamous “polar vortex,” but its evil twin — is bringing sub-zero and single-digit temperatures to much of the nation. And global warming may be even more extreme, and potentially more catastrophic, than climate scientists had feared.

This is, of course, no contradiction. The rallying cry of the denialists — “It’s really cold outside, so global warming must be a crock!” — can only be taken seriously by those with a toddler’s limited conception of time and space. They forget that it’s winter, and apparently they don’t quite grasp that even when it’s cold in one part of the world, it can be hot in another.

Indeed, while the United States is having an unusually frigid month, Australia has been sweltering through record-breaking heat. Play had to be interrupted at the Australian Open tennis tournament when temperatures in Melbourne reached 109 degrees; one player said her plastic water bottle began to melt. The extreme heat came as officials reported that 2013 was the hottest year in Australia since record-keeping began more than a century ago.

On the global scale, 2013 was “merely” the fourth-warmest or seventh-warmest on record, depending whether you believe the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The agencies take slightly different approaches in analyzing and extrapolating the available data, which accounts for the discrepancy, but they agree on the big picture: It’s getting hotter.

Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2002. Deniers who claim there has been a 15-year “pause” in global warming are cherry-picking the data to fit a pre-cooked conclusion: As a baseline they choose 1998, a year in which global temperatures took a huge, anomalous, one-time leap. If you treat 1998 as the statistical outlier that it obviously is, you see a steady and unbroken rise.

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