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The storms that buried the Buffalo, New York, area in more than 7 feet (2.1 meters) of snow this week shattered records and shocked residents — even in a region accustomed to dealing with heavy snow. The storms are certain to provide new fodder for climate-change skeptics who seem to embrace every monster blizzard as evidence that global warming doesn't exist. And yet, the science behind these catastrophic storms suggests that they do not occur despite global warming, but in fact because of it.
A study of 20th century snowstorms published in the August 2006 issue of the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, before the big storms of recent years, found that most major snowstorms in the United States occurred during warmer-than-normal years.
Part of what gave us the record lake-effect snowfall in Buffalo was warm, late-fall lake-surface temperatures that combined with something highly unusual: a 5 sigma event. That is, a very unlikely event on the order of 1-in-a-million — a remarkably persistent, anomalous configuration of the jet stream, which brought frigid Arctic air down into the United States so early in the season."
The substance of a story is what matters, but sometimes, when a story breaks is nearly as important. The Republican-run House Intelligence Committee, for example, waited until late on a Friday afternoon, the week before Thanksgiving, to announce the results of a two-year investigation into the deadly attacks on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya.
For the right, the findings were simply devastating: all of the Benghazi conspiracy theories, the GOP-led committee found, are completely, demonstrably, and unambiguously wrong. From the Associated Press account:
A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.
Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.
The report, which is available in its entirety here, is an unflinching summary of the available evidence, which utterly destroys everything right-wing conspiracy theorists have been pushing for more than two years about the deadly attack. For conservatives, there’s no sugarcoating any of this – literally every accusation has been debunked. No exceptions.
And for Republicans, who’ve invested so much in the ugly exploitation of the terrorism for partisan gain, that obviously posed a problem. For House GOP lawmakers, the solution was to release the findings late on a Friday, shortly before a major national holiday, in the hopes the American public wouldn’t hear the facts. For the most part, the tactic worked exactly as intended: much of the national mediaoverlooked the findings, which were also largely forgotten on the Sunday shows.
Which is a shame, because this seems like an important accountability moment.
Republicans – lawmakers, media personalities, campaign committees, et al – decided the deaths of four Americans abroad should be manipulated into a partisan tool. The party and its allies built a political machine of sorts, raising money, attacking the character of officials such as Susan Rice, misleading their own base, and ignoring real work to chase after ridiculous conspiracy theories.
And now we know, with great clarity, that they were wrong.
It would seem an apology is in order.
Indeed, perhaps no one should be angrier than conservatives themselves. The people they trust most misled them, on purpose, telling loyalists for years that the conspiracy theories had merit, that this was a real scandal, that President Obama and his team were guilty of monstrous wrongdoing. Americans on the right, who assumed they could believe their powerful allies, bought it, only to be quietly told on a Friday afternoon that it was all a sham.
For conservative Americans, this betrayal should be no small development. If Republicans lied to them about a terrorist attack, what else is the party lying to its base about?
For Fox News, that has to be especially demoralizing. No entity was more responsible for keeping the conspiracy theories alive than the cable network, which aired, endorsed, and pushed the conspiracy theories with an unhealthy enthusiasm. Over the summer, Fox went so far as to say it would only coverthe parts of White House press conferences that addressed the 2012 attack.
And what, pray tell, did the network tell its viewers on Friday night after the Intelligence Committee’s report was released? Not much. Wouldn’t you know it, Fox News, which found no Benghazi detail too small, somehow managed not to tell its audience about the findings. The network ran one online report, which tried, to a genuinely (albeit unintentionally) funny degree, to overlook every relevant detail of the Intelligence Committee report.
The on-air apology to Fox’s viewers ought to be amazing, right?
Postscript: It’s worth emphasizing that the House Intelligence Committee’s findings, while devastating for the right, were arguably superfluous. The House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and the State Department’s independent Accountability Review Board have all published reports on the 2012 attack, and each found the same thing. In addition, the attack has been scrutinized by the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Senate Homeland Security Committee, the House Oversight Committee, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, each of which has held hearings, and each of which failed to find even a shred of evidence to bolster the conspiracy theorists.
In other words, we knew the right’s Benghazi story was wrong before Friday afternoon, because their claims had already been discredited. This new report, however, should seal the deal.
The Republican-led House Intelligence Committee quietly issued a report late Friday concluding that there were no intelligence failures in the lead-up to the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi (in contrast to what all Republicans and republican media have been saying since the event took place)— and that there was nothing the military could have done to save Ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other Americans killed in the incident. AND: According to Mediaite, if you get your news from Fox News, which has run thousands of segments promoting various Benghazi conspiracy theories, you may have no idea of the new report’s existence.
London After Midnight / Sean Brennan
Endless Flow of Weapons Fuels Endless War in Iraq and Syria
Published on Monday, October 06, 2014
by Common Dreams
New report shows how flood of munitions from across the globe, including the United States, are making peace impossible in Middle East
Ammo casings found in Iraq and Syria. Top, left to right: China, made in 2009; Syria, made in 1960; Russia, made in 2012; US, made in 2007. Bottom, left to right: U.S., made in 2006; Turkey, made in 2013; Sudan, made in 2012; Iran, made in 2006. (Image: Conflict Armament Research)
An analysis of new data (pdf) collected by a group which tracks weapons in global conflict zones has found that a large proportion of the munitions now being used by ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria are from U.S. manufacturers, either captured on the battlefield or sold to them by supposed U.S. allies.
According to the New York Times on Monday, the available data put together by the Conflict Armament Research, "suggests that ammunition transferred into Syria and Iraq to help stabilize governments has instead passed from the governments to the jihadists, helping to fuel the Islamic State’s rise and persistent combat power. Rifle cartridges from the United States, the sample shows, have played a significant role."
The report notes that a majority of ISIS munitions it examined from Syria were from China and Russia, while those munitions being used by ISIS in Iraq were more likely to be from the United States. The analysis shows that of the approximately 1700 pieces of munitions examined, more than 300 were US-manufactured cartridges, dating from the 2000s. This amounted to nearly 20 percent of the total material documented. "IS forces appear to have acquired a large part of their current arsenal from stocks seized from, or abandoned by, Iraqi defence and security forces," the report states. "The US gifted much of this materiel to Iraq."
Taken together, the pattern shows how the persistent flood of weapons into the region—not just from the U.S., but from China, Russia, and other large suppliers as well—has fueled the violence and the killing on all sides of the conflict.
As the Center for Public Integrityreports:
Much of the Islamic State arms and ammunition were captured on the battlefield, but intelligence reports have suggested that the group’s income from oil sales and other sources is high enough to finance purchases of additional weapons directly from the companies and dealers that routinely profit from strife in the Middle East.
Experts say the fact that the armaments have such disparate sources – some were even made at a major U.S. munitions plant in Missouri – provides a cautionary note as Washington prepares to undertake expanded shipments of military supplies, including small arms, to rebel groups in Syria and to a revived Iraqi Army force.
Though Congress recently approved $500 million for arming and training "moderate" Syrian rebel forces last month, many foreign policy experts have warned against such spending, arguing that only diplomatic efforts—not military ones—can ultimately solve the conflict.
As Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Common Dreams in reaction to CAR's September report on weapons in the region: "This is one more piece of evidence of why military solutions have devastating consequences in the immediate and long terms. We see an example of the consequences of the over-arming of the region if we look back at Afghanistan in the 1980s during the anti-Soviet War when the U.S. provided stinger missiles that can bring down aircraft to mujahedin guerrillas who morphed into al Qaeda."
And as a new short video by Brave New Films argues, it is this steady flow of weapons and militaristic mindset that creates a cycle of "perpetual war," in which bombing, drone attacks, and sending of weapons only fuels and worsens the very "terrorism" that such wars are said to be aimed at stopping. "How does this end?" the film asks.
London After Midnight / Sean Brennan
Study finds strong evidence for discriminatory intent behind voter ID laws
Published June 3 at 2:03 pm in The Washington Post
by Christopher Ingraham
A voter walks past a 'Please Have Photo ID Ready' sign as he enters an early-voting polling place in Little Rock, Ark., on May 5. (Danny Johnston/ AP)
State legislators who support voter ID laws are motivated in no small part by racial bias, according to a new study from the University of Southern California. The study finds strong evidence that "discriminatory intent underlies legislative support for voter identification laws."
The findings raise questions about the constitutionality of voter ID laws, which the Supreme Court affirmed in 2007 on the basis that Indiana's strict law represented a "generally applicable, nondiscriminatory voting regulation." For quick background, these laws require registered voters to show some sort of government-issued ID before they vote -- supporters say they're necessary to prevent voter fraud, while opponents counter that they disproportionately affect elderly, minority and low-income groups. For more, see ProPublica's excellent backgrounder on the topic.
Demonstrating racial bias is not easy -- as I've discussed before, nobody actually calls themselves racists, because much racial bias happens at the subconscious level -- so the USC researchers developed a novel real-world field experiment to test bias among state legislators. In the two weeks prior to the 2012 election, they sent e-mail correspondence to a total of 1,871 state legislators in 14 states. The e-mails read as follows:
Hello (Representative/Senator NAME),
My name is (voter NAME) and I have heard a lot in the news lately about identification being required at the polls. I do not have a driver’s license. Can I still vote in November? Thank you for your help.
The key to the experiment lies in that voter name field. One group of legislators received e-mail from a voter who identified himself as "Jacob Smith." The other received email from "Santiago Rodriguez." Moreover, half of the legislators in each of these two groups received e-mails written in Spanish, while half received English-language e-mails.
The researchers then measured the lawmakers' response rates to these e-mails. Crucially, in each state in the study, legislators really could have simply responded with a "yes" -- drivers' licenses were not required in any of the states in order to vote.
The researchers found that legislators who had supported voter ID laws were much more likely to respond to "Jacob Smith" than to "Santiago Rodriguez." This gap reveals a preference for responding to constituents with Anglophone names over constituents with Hispanic ones.
There was also an Anglophone preference among legislators who had not backed ID requirements, but crucially this preference was much smaller. This finding held true among legislators who received English-language e-mails, as well as legislators who received Spanish e-mails.
An individual case of non-responsiveness alone isn't evidence of bias. But the significant difference between ID supporters and opponents in the extent of their Anglophone preference provides solid evidence of underlying bias, according to the researchers.
"The fact that legislators supporting voter identification responded so much l to the Latino name is evidence anti-Latino bias, unrelated to electoral considerations, might be influencing these public policies," they write. "The same elites who propose and support legislation to restrict Latino voting rights also provide less non-policy responsiveness to Latino constituents, at least in the context examined here. This means that the quality of representation is poor for many Latino constituents."
More to the point, these findings raise serious questions about the legality of voter ID laws. The Supreme Court's 2007 justification for these laws rests on two pillars.
The first is the notion that voter fraud even occurs at significant levels. Recent research has overwhelmingly debunked this idea: a recent study by political scientists at Stanford and the University of Wisconsin found that "virtually all the major scholarship on voter impersonation fraud – based largely on specific allegations and criminal investigations – has concluded that it is vanishingly rare, and certainly nowhere near the numbers necessary to have an effect on any election." Or, to put it another way, about as many people say they've been abducted by space aliens as say they've committed voter fraud.
The second justification for voter ID laws is that they aren't motivated by discriminatory intent. But this new paper finds a solid link between legislator support for voter ID laws and bias toward Latino voters, as measured in their responses to constituent e-mails.
In short, voter ID laws are simply racially-motivated solutions to a problem that never existed.
London After Midnight / Sean Brennan
NASA-Funded Study: Industrial Civilization Headed for 'Irreversible Collapse'?
Natural and social scientists develop new model of how 'perfect storm' of crises could unravel global system
This Nasa Earth Observatory image shows a storm system circling around an area of extreme low pressure in 2010, which many scientists attribute to climate change. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
A new study sponsored by Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.
Noting that warnings of 'collapse' are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that "the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history." Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to "precipitous collapse - often lasting centuries - have been quite common."
The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary 'Human And Nature DYnamical' (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.
It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:
"The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent."
By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.
These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: "the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity"; and "the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or "Commoners") [poor]" These social phenomena have played "a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse," in all such cases over "the last five thousand years."
Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to overconsumption of resources, with "Elites" based largely in industrialised countries responsible for both:
"... accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels."
The study challenges those who argue that technology will resolve these challenges by increasing efficiency:
"Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use."
Productivity increases in agriculture and industry over the last two centuries has come from "increased (rather than decreased) resource throughput," despite dramatic efficiency gains over the same period.
Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri and his colleagues conclude that under conditions "closely reflecting the reality of the world today... we find that collapse is difficult to avoid." In the first of these scenarios, civilisation:
".... appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature."
Another scenario focuses on the role of continued resource exploitation, finding that "with a larger depletion rate, the decline of the Commoners occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriving, but eventually the Commoners collapse completely, followed by the Elites."
In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most "detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners", allowing them to "continue 'business as usual' despite the impending catastrophe." The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how "historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases)."
Applying this lesson to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:
"While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory 'so far' in support of doing nothing."
However, the scientists point out that the worst-case scenarios are by no means inevitable, and suggest that appropriate policy and structural changes could avoid collapse, if not pave the way toward a more stable civilisation.
The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth:
"Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion."
The NASA-funded HANDY model offers a highly credible wake-up call to governments, corporations and business - and consumers - to recognise that 'business as usual' cannot be sustained, and that policy and structural changes are required immediately.
Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies - by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance - have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a 'perfect storm' within about fifteen years. But these 'business as usual' forecasts could be very conservative.
London After Midnight / Sean Brennan
Debunking the Five Most Common Myths About Gun Control
Posted On January 14, 2014 armedwithreson.com
1. More Guns, Less Crime In response to John R. Lott’s book “More Guns, Less Crime,” a sixteen-member panel of the United States Research Council convened in 2004 and 2010 to address the relationship between right-to-carry laws and crime rates. They found, at best, gun availability has a negligible effect on crime rates and, at worse, causes an increase in aggravated assault rates. Two Yale professors, Ayres and Donohue, further reviewed Lott’s findings, and discovered that his data contained numerous coding and econometric errors that, when corrected, led to the opposite conclusion—RTC laws only increase crime. This was the second time Lott presented findings with coding errors, and the embarrassment after Ayres and Donohue’s devastating response led Lott to remove his name from the final paper.
One of the most recent and largest studies to date on gun violence in America concludes that widespread gun ownership is the driving force behind gun violence in the United States. The study compiled data from 50 states between 1981-2010 to examine the relationship between gun ownership and homicide. Because no good data exists on national rates of gun ownership, the study used the best available proxy for gun ownership, the percentage of suicides involving a firearm. After accounting for national trends in violent crime as well as 18 control variables, the study concluded the following: “for each percentage point increase in gun ownership the firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9%”
2. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people
Lawnmowers don’t mow lawns, people do, but if want to be exceedingly efficient about it with very little effort or time, you will need a lawnmower. The obvious problem with the “guns don’t kill people” argument is that it confuses proximate and root causes. We can acknowledge that the root cause of maladaptive behavior is human decision-making, but that says nothing about how proximate causes, such as firearms, exacerbates the effect of bad decisions.
Compared to other high-income countries, for example, the United States has a firearm homicide rate that is 6.9 times higher than other high-income countries, a firearm suicide rate that is 5.8 times higher than other high-income countries, and an unintentional firearm death rate that is 5.2 times higher than other countries. In fact, 80% of all firearm deaths in the developed world occur in the United States.
In response to this overwhelming evidence, gun advocates argue that the problem can be solved simply with even more guns. 3. Criminals don’t follow laws Criminals, definitionally, do not follow laws; this is an uninteresting tautology, not a meaningful statement about social realities. Serial rapists, murderers, and thieves rarely follow laws prohibiting rape, murder, and theft, but that clearly doesn’t mean we should abandon laws that ban such activity. Just because a criminal doesn’t obey one law does not mean they don’t obey any laws.
Law enforcement, rather obviously, can prevent law-abiding citizens from becoming criminals by forcing people to internalize the cost of breaking laws. One survey asked prison inmates who did not use a gun to carry out their crime why they chose not to: 79 percent chose “get a stiffer sentence” and 59 percent chose “Against the Law.”
Contrary to the gun lobby’s claim that “when guns are outlawed, only the outlaws have guns,” the experience in both Great Britain and Japan has instead been “When guns are outlawed, very few outlaws will have guns.” Indeed, gun crime in Japan and England is virtually nonexistent compared to American standards. In fact, 60% of the time when a ‘”firearm” is used in England, the firearm is a dummy replica or a bluff.
4. Armed populations prevent tyranny
Even a cursory reading of history finds that militias, especially unregulated ones, are overwhelmingly inimical to the functioning of a free society. In Vietnam, Afghanistan, Cuba, Somalia, Iraq, and southern Lebanon, even while fighting against foreign rule, these countries’ militias actively worked against the establishment of a free state. Finding developed country analogs for these examples is impossible, as there are simply no wealthy countries, with the exception of Costa Rica, that use militias for self-defense. For examples closer to home, we can look to how miserably the Ku Klux Klan, the Black Panthers, and Neo-Nazi factions (all examples of real militias) failed to promote a free society.
It is also demonstrably false, as gun advocates argue, that armed populations are never given the opportunity to stop tyranny because they are disarmed first. Yemen, for example, is the second most heavily armed country in the world (per capita), and is currently embroiled in a civil war between a Western dictatorship and Jihadist groups. Saddam Hussein, by any definition a tyrant, invigilated over a brutal regime despite the fact that Iraqi people were heavily armed.
The most common form of “armed populations prevent tyranny” is “Hitler took the guns.” First, the idea that a small group of heavily armed Jews could have succeeded where the Polish and French armies failed is laughable. Second, the argument fails to recognize that most strict gun control implemented in the Wiemar Republic was implemented to prevent armed coups from materializing by the Nazis or the Communists. It failed. When Hitler seized power, he implemented policy in 1938 that actually loosened restrictions on gun ownership.
Intimidation: A study of battered women in California found that, if a gun was in the home, it was used to threaten and harm women in 66% of cases. Fewer than 7% of these women had used the gun in self-defense. A national random survey found that hostile uses of guns for intimidation, such as brandishing the firearm during argument, or going outside to shoot the gun during an altercation, occurred more frequently than self-defense uses.
Accidents: Death certificate data from 2003 to 2007 finds that 680 Americans per year were killed through accidental firearm use. Data from the National Violent Death Reporting System finds that half of these deaths occurred in the home, half of the victims were under 25, and half of all deaths were inflicted by someone other than the owner of the gun (e.g. friend, family member).
Suicides: More Americans kill themselves with guns than all other methods combined. Over ten case-controlled studies find that guns increase the risk of suicide occurring at the home for all members of the household. It is also not the case that gun owners are inherently more suicidal—this has been tested by numerous studies, and the relationship between gun ownership and suicide appears causal. Because most suicide attempts occur during transient risk periods of impulsivity, lasting less than five minutes, reducing the availability of firearms is one of the most effective methods of suicide reduction.
Homicides: From 2003 to 2007, 33 Americans per day were murdered with guns. A very small minority of these homicides were planned, with a large proportion of them occurring during hostile arguments over domestic problems. These arguments escalate and, in the presence of a gun, often lead to fatal consequences. One of the most cited studies examining homicide in the home compares 400 homicide victims killed in their home throughout 3 metropolitan areas. After controlling for multiple variables, the study found that the presence of a gun was a strong risk factor for homicide in the home. This association was driven almost exclusively by homicide committed at the hands of a family member of intimate acquaintance.
The data are clear: a gun in the home does not make you any safer.
London After Midnight / Sean Brennan
Is 'Polar Vortex' Attributable to Climate Change? Yes.
As temperatures plummet, a reminder: 'Every weather event in the modern world is attributable to climate change.'
- Jon Queally, staff writer
A man wears a face mask and heavy clothes while walking through downtown Springfield, Ill., in blowing and falling snow as a strong winter storm moves through the Midwest Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. (AP/Seth Perlman)Weather isn't climate and the climate isn't weather, but if someone asks whether the 'polar vortex' now being experience by tens of millions of people across the country is driven by climate change, you don't have to wait for the next wave of scientific research to come out. The answer is 'Yes.'
Sadly and predictably, however—as much of the nation faces the coldest temperatures seen in nearly two decades on Monday and into Tuesday— the push of bone-chilling arctic air into southern Canada and much of the United States has the climate change denialists pushing their familiar falsehoods about how near-record lows nationwide somehow disproves global warming.
In just one example, multi-millionaire and political pundit Donald Trump took to Fox News on Monday morning to say that the freezing temperatures help prove that there is a great "hoax" around climate change. "You know," Tump said when asked to explain, "I think the scientists are having a lot of fun."
On Monday, federal and state agencies issued dire warnings about freezing temperatures that have blanketed the midwest, saying that millions of Americans are under threat by windchill temperatures today and tomorrow that could be life-threatening. Temperature readings, factoring in windchill effect, were reported as low as -63°F in Montana and -50°F in places in North Dakota and Minnesota.
But the effort by Trump and others to portray the phenomenon known as the "arctic vortex" as some an event that discredits the international scientific consensus on the relationship between industrial society's relationship to planetary climate change, however, is being met with a firm rebuke of its own by climate activists, weather experts, and scientists.
As climate justice campaigner Jamie Henn of 350.org tweeted Monday:
The article referenced by Henn, wrriten by Greg Landen at ScienceBlogs.com, says that the "apparent contrast between extreme cold and global warming is actually an illusion."
In what way? Landen continues:
The Polar Vortex, a huge system of moving swirling air that normally contains the polar cold air, has shifted so it is not sitting right on the pole as it usually does. We are not seeing an expansion of cold, an ice age, or an anti-global warming phenomenon. We are seeing the usual cold polar air taking an excursion.
So, this cold weather we are having does not disprove global warming.
In fact, it may be because of global warming. The Polar Vortex can go off center any given winter, but we have been having some strange large scale weather activity over the last few years that is thought to be related to global warming that may have contributed to this particular weather event (explained here). This may be an effect of this strangeness, though the jury is still probably out on this particular weather event.
According to Dr. Dim Coumou, a senior scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) near Berlin, who spoke to Agence France-Presse, what drives the polar vortex is the difference in temperature between the Arctic region and those in the mid-latitudes closer to the equator.
"The reason why we see these strong meanderings is still not fully settled," Coumou told AFP, "but it's clear that the Arctic has been warming very rapidly. We have good data on this. Arctic temperatures have risen much more than other parts of the globe."
The idea that any particular "weather event" is or is not climate change, however, belies the deeper fact that all weather events are complex results of underlying climate conditions. As Jim Naureckas, a journalist at the media watchdog group FAIR, explained to his readers in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines last year, "attributing particular weather events to climate change is ridiculously easy."
The reason for that, he continues, is because (emphasis his):
"Every weather event in the modern world is attributable to climate change. This is because weather is a chaotic system, which is to say it varies wildly based on initial conditions. Once we raised global temperature by a degree Celsius—which is an enormous intervention in the physical world—we irrevocably changed all weather, producing an entirely different set of events than the ones that would have otherwise occurred."
In other words, the whole debate about whether this hurricane, that tornado, or the current 'polar vortex' is or isn't climate change misses the point.
Writing about the climate dynamics that are driving the current 'polar vortex' event Jeff Masters, meteorologist and founder of the popular Wunderground blog, explains:
In the winter, the 24-hour darkness over the snow and ice-covered polar regions allows a huge dome of cold air to form. This cold air increases the difference in temperature between the pole and the Equator, and leads to an intensification of the strong upper-level winds of the jet stream. The strong jet stream winds act to isolate the polar regions from intrusions of warmer air, creating a "polar vortex" of frigid counter-clockwise swirling air over the Arctic. The chaotic flow of the air in the polar vortex sometimes allows a large dip (a sharp trough of low pressure) to form in the jet stream over North America, allowing the Arctic air that had been steadily cooling in the northern reaches of Canada in areas with 24-hour darkness to spill southwards deep into the United States. In theory, the 1.5°F increase in global surface temperatures that Earth has experienced since 1880 due to global warming should reduce the frequency of 1-in-20 year extreme cold weather events like the current one. However, it is possible that climate change could alter jet stream circulation patterns in a way that could increase the incidence of unusual jet stream "kinks" that allow cold air to spill southwards over the Eastern U.S., a topic I have blogged about extensively, and plan to say more about later this week.
Lastly, this video posted at the Mother Nature Network and featuring Masters as well as Rutgers University professor Jennifer Francis, helps explain the dynamics by which a warming planet can result in freezing cold weather patterns and extremes of all kinds:
London After Midnight / Sean Brennan