"Winter storm" causes Dobbs to ask: "What's that global warming deal?"

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN, DIANNA PARKER & HANNAH DREIER

Lou Dobbs said during the introduction of his CNN show: "And tonight, unusual winter storms are dumping snow in unusual places across Western states, and a huge snowstorm is headed toward the Northeast. This is global warming?" During his segment on the issue, Dobbs hosted Heartland Institute senior fellow and science director Jay Lehr without disclosing that Heartland receives funding from the energy industry and without challenging Lehr's assertions that "[t]he last 10 years have been quite cool" and that "the sun" -- rather than humans -- is responsible for recent climate change.

Despite overwhelming evidence of human-caused global warming and warnings by experts that short-term weather conditions are not evidence for or against its existence, Lou Dobbs said during the introduction of his December 18 CNN show: "And tonight, unusual winter storms are dumping snow in unusual places across Western states, and a huge snowstorm is headed toward the Northeast. This is global warming?" During his segment on the issue, moreover, Dobbs hosted Heartland Institute senior fellow and science director Jay Lehr without disclosing that Heartland receives funding from the energy industry and without challenging Lehr's assertions that "[t]he last 10 years have been quite cool" and that "the sun" -- rather than humans -- is responsible for recent climate change.

Throughout the show, Dobbs teased the segment by falsely suggesting that current weather conditions have some bearing on the issue -- about which there is overwhelming scientific consensus -- of whether global warming is occurring. Dobbs said the following:

Still ahead here: winter storm sweeping the country. Is this what you call global warming?

[...]

Coming up next, snow falls in the desert? So what are -- what are those folks talking about, global warming? We'll find out.

[...]

We'll tell you about that and a big freeze across the country. What's that global warming deal? We'll be talking with two meteorological experts -- a special report on it next.

Dobbs then introduced his "special report" on what current weather "means for a discussion of global warming" by discussing substantial snowfall in parts of the United States and adding, "Perhaps [former Vice President] Al Gore now is considering global warming isn't such a problem, because it is unusually warm in his home state of Tennessee. The forecast there calls for a high of 64 degrees in Nashville. Mr. Vice President, be careful."

However, as The New York Times reported on March 2, climate scientists -- including at least one who has disputed aspects of the scientific consensus on global warming -- completely reject the notion that short-term changes in weather, let alone individual storms, bear any relevance to the global warming debate:

Many scientists also say that the cool spell in no way undermines the enormous body of evidence pointing to a warming world with disrupted weather patterns, less ice and rising seas should heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels and forests continue to accumulate in the air.

''The current downturn is not very unusual,'' said Carl Mears, a scientist at Remote Sensing Systems, a private research group in Santa Rosa, Calif., that has been using satellite data to track global temperature and whose findings have been held out as reliable by a variety of climate experts. He pointed to similar drops in 1988, 1991-92, and 1998, but with a long-term warming trend clear nonetheless.

[...]

Michael E. Schlesinger, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, said that any focus on the last few months or years as evidence undermining the established theory that accumulating greenhouse gases are making the world warmer was, at best, a waste of time and, at worst, a harmful distraction.

Discerning a human influence on climate, he said, ''involves finding a signal in a noisy background.'' He added, ''The only way to do this within our noisy climate system is to average over a sufficient number of years that the noise is greatly diminished, thereby revealing the signal. This means that one cannot look at any single year and know whether what one is seeing is the signal or the noise or both the signal and the noise.''

[...]

Some scientists who strongly disagree with each other on the extent of warming coming in this century, and on what to do about it, agreed that it was important not to be tempted to overinterpret short-term swings in climate, either hot or cold.

Patrick J. Michaels, a climatologist and commentator with the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington, has long chided environmentalists and the media for overstating connections between extreme weather and human-caused warming. (He is on the program at the skeptics' conference.)

But Dr. Michaels said that those now trumpeting global cooling should beware of doing the same thing, saying that the ''predictable distortion'' of extreme weather ''goes in both directions.''

Gavin A. Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan who has spoken out about the need to reduce greenhouse gases, disagrees with Dr. Michaels on many issues, but concurred on this point.

''When I get called by CNN to comment on a big summer storm or a drought or something, I give the same answer I give a guy who asks about a blizzard,'' Dr. Schmidt said. ''It's all in the long-term trends. Weather isn't going to go away because of climate change. There is this desire to explain everything that we see in terms of something you think you understand, whether that's the next ice age coming or global warming.''

Indeed, during the segment, both of Dobbs' guests -- Lehr and CNN meteorologist Chad Myers -- appeared to dismiss the idea that current weather conditions constitute evidence when discussing global warming.

Additionally, neither Dobbs nor Myers challenged Lehr's assertion that "[t]he last 10 years have been quite cool." In fact, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the 2008 meteorological year (December 2007 through November 2008) "was the ninth warmest year in the period of instrumental measurements, which extends back to 1880. The nine warmest years all occur within the eleven-year period 1998-2008." (GISS further states that "given our estimated error ... we can only say that 2008 probably ranks as somewhere between the 7th and 12th warmest year.)

Lehr also suggested that the sun, and not humans, is solely responsible for climate change:

DOBBS: Yeah, I mean, Jay, we've been around just a little over four -- by scientific estimates, about four and a half billion years. What is --what is your thought about the dominant influence on weather?

LEHR: Well, clearly -- clearly Lou, it is the sun. But if we go back in really recorded human history, in the 13th century, we were probably 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than we are now. And it was a very prosperous time for mankind. If we go back to the Revolutionary War, 300 years ago, it was very, very cold. We've been warming out of that cold spell from the Revolutionary War period, and now we're back into a cooling cycle. The last 10 years have been quite cool. And right now I think we're going in to cooling rather than warming, and that should be a much greater concern for humankind. But all we can do is adapt. It is the sun that does it, not man.

Neither Dobbs nor Myers pointed out that the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 2007 "Synthesis Report" concluded that "[w]arming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level" and that "[m]ost of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely [defined in the report as a ">90%" chance] due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [human-caused] GHG [greenhouse gas] concentrations." The IPCC report specifically rebuts the suggestion that the sun, rather than humans, is responsible for climate change:

The observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely [<5% chance] that global climate change of the past 50 years can be explained without external forcing and very likely that it is not due to known natural causes alone. During this period, the sum of solar and volcanic forcings would likely [>66% chance] have produced cooling, not warming.

In comparing human-caused and natural "radiative forcing," (which is defined as "an index of the importance of [a] factor as a potential climate change mechanism"), the IPCC's February 2007 Working Group I Report "The Physical Science Basis" concluded that since 1750, "it is extremely likely [>95% chance] that humans have exerted a substantial warming influence on climate. This RF estimate is likely to be at least five times greater than that due to solar irradiance changes. For the period 1950 to 2005, it is exceptionally unlikely [<1% chance] that the combined natural RF (solar irradiance plus volcanic aerosol) has had a warming influence comparable to that of the combined anthropogenic RF."

Further, Dobbs described Lehr as a "meteorological expert" and a "senior fellow and science director of the Heartland Institute" but failed to disclose that the Heartland Institute receives funding from the energy industry. For example, ExxonMobil reports that Exxon, its divisions and affiliates, and its foundation contributed $115,000 to Heartland in 2006, including $90,000 specifically for "General Operating Support -- Climate Change." Heartland's website states:

Heartland reported income and spending of $5.2 million and a full-time staff of 25 in 2007. Funding comes from approximately 2,700 individuals, foundations, and corporations.

Heartland's donor base has always been diverse. All energy companies combined -- oil, coal, natural gas, and utilities -- gave less than 5 percent of its budget in 2007 and probably will in 2008. About 16 percent of its budget comes from corporations, with the rest from foundations and individuals.

From the December 18 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:

DOBBS: And tonight, unusual winter storms are dumping snow in unusual places across Western states, and a huge snowstorm is headed toward the Northeast. This is global warming? We'll be talking with meteorological experts. We'll have a special report for you on that. All the day's news and a great deal more from an independent perspective here next.

[...]

DOBBS: Still ahead here: winter storm sweeping the country. Is this what you call global warming?

[...]

DOBBS: Coming up next, snow falls in the desert? So what are -- what are those folks talking about, global warming? We'll find out.

[...]

DOBBS: Also, some politicians say polar bears can jump-start our economy, and they're serious. But they want you to pay for it. We'll tell you about that and a big freeze across the country. What's that global warming deal? We'll be talking with two meteorological experts -- a special report on it next. Stay with us.

[...]

DOBBS: Welcome back. And let's talk about what is happening across this country. The weather is just unbelievable. And let's also talk about what it all means for a discussion of global warming. Unusual storms and a deep freeze across much of the country tonight. An overnight storm dumped about three and a half inches of snow on Las Vegas, which broke the previous December record of two inches of snow back in 1967. The normal snowfall for Las Vegas is just about a half an inch for the entire year.

Snow even falling on the beachfront community of Malibu, California. The normally sunny and balmy city hit with half an inch of snow. And snow plows cleaning up roads in Payson, Arizona, there, after a winter storm dropped several inches of snow. Snow also falling in the state's higher elevations -- 10 inches of snow falling in Flagstaff, Arizona. And it was snow, not the usual rain, that ensnarled traffic on Seattle roads this morning. There could be more snow, we're told, over the weekend, in the Northwest.

Perhaps Al Gore now is considering global warming isn't such a problem, because it is unusually warm in his home state of Tennessee. The forecast there calls for a high of 64 degrees in Nashville. Mr. Vice President, be careful. Joining me now to talk about this bizarre weather are, from the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta, meteorologist Chad Myer [sic]. Chad, great to have you with us. And in Columbus, Ohio, Jay Lehr. He's senior fellow and science director of the Heartland Institute. Good to have you with us, Jay.

Let me -- let me start, if I may, Chad, this is really a peculiar sort of circumstance. Or is this one of those things where it just appears to be peculiar and we see this every winter?

MYERS: Yeah, you know, we really do. I mean this --

DOBBS: Oh, for crying out loud, I shouldn't have asked you that.

MYERS: -- the chance --

MYERS: No, listen to this. The chance of getting snow in Vegas on a day like yesterday, about one in 500. Now that's the same chance of you getting a flush on a five-card stud. Well, it happens. I mean, five cards -- people do get flushes, right? So, snow does happen. The odds are the same, and so --

DOBBS: But it's --

MYERS: -- it's just not all that un -- it's not all that weird. We have [inaudible] in this newsroom.

DOBBS: We got record snowfall. Wait a minute, Chad. We got record snowfall in Las Vegas.

MYERS: For one day.

DOBBS: Well, come on, it's -- that's all we got is one day.

MYERS: I guess. But, you know, you can't blame global warming or global cooling on one event. It's just too short. It's gotta be longer than that. We're talking about climate. Not a day.

DOBBS: All right, well speaking of climates, let's turn to the science director and -- at the Heartland Institute. And you -- what correlation, if any, do you find, Jay, between all of these cooling trends that we've seen over this year and part of last year, in terms of so-called global warming? Any relationship?

LEHR: Absolutely not, Lou. I agree with Chad. I used to teach at the University of Arizona in the 1960s. And I can't remember a winter where we didn't have snow, and people don't think it snows in the desert. I grew up near a farming community, and I started reading the Farmer's Almanac when I was a small child.

DOBBS: Right.

LEHR: And they've been tracking the weather since 1792. And I've gone back through my almanacs, and if there's one thing constant about the weather, it's change. And I also -- I know I share a hobby that you used to have, skydiving.

DOBBS: Yup.

LEHR: I have jumped out of a plane in Ohio every month for 31 years, and I track the weather constantly to find out if I can make it out of a plane. And I can tell you --

DOBBS: It's a good thing to do.

LEHR: Right. And the weather the last 10 years hasn't been significantly different than the 10 years before that or the 10 years before that. It has been -- it's always change is what the weather about. And to say that it has to do with global warming is really more of a joke than anything else. Why people are so alarmed about it, I have no clue.

DOBBS: Well, you know, that's fascinating. Chad, we're seeing, you know, weather that at least is unusual for this one day, as you point out. But let me ask you for your viewpoint. I mean, is -- in your career, are you seeing anything here that directly is tied to something called global warming, fossil fuels, man-made? Which is the dominant influence overall on weather? Is it cycles? Solar sunspots? Solar flares? The 11-year cycle? Is that dominant? What is dominant in terms of influencing weather?

MYERS: You know, to think that we could affect weather all that much is pretty arrogant. Mother Nature is so big. The world is so big. The oceans are so big. I think we're gonna die from a lack of fresh water or we're gonna die from ocean acidification before we die from global warming, for sure. But this is like, you know, you said, in your career -- my career has been 22 years long.

That's a good career in TV. But in talking about climate, it's like having a car for three days and saying this is a great car. Well, yeah, it was for three days, but maybe in day five, six, and seven it won't be so good. And that's what we're doing here. We have a hundred years' worth of data, not millions of years that the world's been around.

DOBBS: Yeah, I mean, Jay, we've been around just a little over four -- by scientific estimates, about four and a half billion years. What is --what is your thought about the dominant influence on weather?

LEHR: Well, clearly -- clearly Lou, it is the sun. But if we go back in really recorded human history, in the 13th century, we were probably 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than we are now. And it was a very prosperous time for mankind. If we go back to the Revolutionary War, 300 years ago, it was very, very cold. We've been warming out of that cold spell from the Revolutionary War period, and now we're back into a cooling cycle. The last 10 years have been quite cool. And right now I think we're going in to cooling rather than warming, and that should be a much greater concern for humankind. But all we can do is adapt. It is the sun that does it, not man.

DOBBS: Jay Lehr, thank you very much. Chad Myers, thank you very much. We appreciate it. Find some more unusual weather for us, Chad. We'll be back tomorrow, another day.

Posted In
Environment & Science, Climate Change
Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Lou Dobbs
Show/Publication
Lou Dobbs Tonight
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