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Q. Dear Umbra,

This “year with no summer” and some alleged statistics I have seen quoted about earth-wide temperatures for the last ten years have resulted in claims that the earth is not heating — it may even be cooling. What about it?

Arthur Waskow
Shalom Center, Philadelphia

A. Dearest Arthur,

climate combatThe oceans are too getting warmer!That would be great. The planet needs some cooling, and humans certainly aren’t doing anything to help. But let us remember the difference between weather and climate.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration does confirm that summer 2009 in the contiguous U.S. was 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit below the 20th Century average of 72.1 degrees. We notice no concomitant change in policy from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, or any other reputable source, so we must conclude that a cool summer was only weather, and that in general the overall climate remains on track for warming.

After all, the last decades have included the hottest years on record, when you look at ocean and surface temperatures. Last year was the eighth-warmest on record; full stats are not yet in on 2009, of course, but already we know that the world’s oceans set a heat record in July. All this does not seem to indicate ten years worth of cooling temperatures.

As our country pushes further toward actually having an organized response to climate change, it’s important for us all to be as informed as we can be, and to be ready to respond to those who are dubious about the need for action. Or who write whatever weird stuff you’ve been reading about cooling temperatures.

I have given out some resources before, and Grist as a whole is a good resource for tracking climate action in senate chambers, chat rooms, and other tangible and intangible locations. But today I’d like to be sure our browser bookmarks contain lists with some helpful easy-to-read FAQ compilations. These are for use when confused by news stories or “deniers,” and are mostly organized by the issues deniers raise.

I’ll just give a few. There’s Grist’s own “How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic” series. There’s Real Climate’s Start Here page as well as their index, and my beloved Union of Concerned Scientists’ Climate FAQ list. Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council also has a nice summary of an open session it held a few years ago, organized by debate points.

I hope those will help with the confusing moments.

Cheerfully,
Umbra