The story of the federal government’s relationship with science brings to mind the fiery opening scene of Apocalypse Now, complete with the ominous soundtrack.
When Christmas turned up, much to everyone’s palpable relief, everyone assumed the Alternative Fact-touting President of the United States would give everyone a break and leave science alone for a while.
Not so: on December 29, during a particularly chilly day in parts of the Land of the Free, Trump let loose on Twitter.
Across the world, scientists facepalmed themselves so hard they almost gave themselves concussions.
It’s difficult to know where to focus with this final flurry of weapons-grade nonsense, so for now, we’ll leave out the fallacious reference to the “cost” of the Paris agreement and we’ll focus this time on the science alone.
Yes, it’s pretty cold in America right now. This is not unusual, because of something called winter that turns up around this time of year and makes things noticeably and predictably chilly. Fair enough, though, the mercury has plunged in parts to ludicrous lows – and, as reported by one outlet, a pet dog in Ohio was found frozen solid.
A piece over at Mashable eloquently explains that the jet stream across the Arctic has changed shape in recent days. This is causing extremely cold air to make its way across much of Canada and the US, which explains why parts of both are experiencing record-breaking chills right now.
This new configuration of the jet stream is likely to last for several more days, which means that below-freezing temperatures are to be expected through into the New Year.
Here’s the thing, though: this is a weather phenomenon. It isn’t representative of the climate.
Weather, as described by the National Snow and Ice Data Center, is the “day-to-day state of the atmosphere, and its short-term variation in minutes to weeks.” Climate is the “weather of a place averaged over a period of time,” often over “years, decades, and centuries.”
When it comes to evidence of climate change and the associated upsurge in anomalously hot days versus cold days, then, we’re really spoilt for choice.
Lest we forget, the Trump administration was forced to release a comprehensive federal report a few months back that not only concluded that the world was warming dangerously, but that humanity is responsible for almost all observed global warming. Winters in the US, by the way, are unequivocally warming over time.
If you still think that this Christmas chill is evidence that climate change is bunk, well we have some news for you: several studies suggest that our actions are altering the shape of the polar jet stream, inadvertently giving the UK and the US freakishly cold winters.
It's also worth pointing out that the current jet stream configuration means that Alaska and the Arctic are unseasonably warm right now.
In summary, then, one major cold snap for a week or so does not mean that climate change is a myth akin to a unicorn. Climate change is really focused on the overall trend, and the rate of change, over time – not single events.
If your house is on fire, but you happen to be in a small room upstairs that has a bit of a cold draft coming in and has yet to be consumed by the flames, you cannot say that there is no evidence that the house is on fire.
Incidentally, as pointed out by Axios, this is one of the very few comments Trump has made while in office directly mocking the science of climate change. Normally, he leaves that to his acolytes in the federal government.
Is he now taking on the role of science denier-in-chief with aplomb? We hope not. We're so, so very tired.