Hi Umbra,

We’ve had some bizarre weather in New England, and more and more people are wondering if it’s due to global warming. On NBC News, they had a 30-year veteran of NOAA state flatly that it’s not global warming, it’s El Niño. As a greenie/leftie I got angry, thinking here goes the MSM denying reality again. Isn’t the fact that we are seeing the effects of yet another El Niño indicative of a warming trend? Aren’t the weeks of abnormally mild weather more ominous than the cyclical effects of El Niño? Is it acceptable for an NOAA scientist to categorically deny or rule out global warming as a factor?

Warm and Worried in Connecticut

Dearest WAW,

I have to admit, MSM took me a second — you mean the purported mainstream media, of course. But at first I thought it was a new television network I’d missed thanks to my sheltered existence.

He angered me with science.

Photo: iStockphoto

Remember, I’m an advice columnist, not a scientist, so all I can do is give you a few pieces of conservative advice about Science. In sum: you should probably believe a 30-year veteran of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before believing anything I or other non-scientists might try to mash together — we amateurs are but wee pixels in the weather map of life.

These scientist people are very thorough. You know the whole idea of the scientific method: you have a question, then you make a hypothesis, then you do a ton of research to see whether your hypothesis holds up. Either your hypothesis is supported by your research, or it is not. If not, you start again. If so, you start again anyway to make sure — and you also send all your previous research off to other, very picky and respected scientists who look at your conclusions quite critically and place them within the context of previous conclusions. Then, maybe, your work is published and the relevant scientific community responds with yet more support and criticism, which you fold into your ongoing research.

In general, a scientist is not a person who states neat notions that strike him or her as fact, or a person who says what other people want to hear, or a person — most centrally — who will state an unproven hypothesis as fact. Most are not that way by personality or training, nor would they survive long in their career if they were. They tend to love science because of the unanswered questions, even though we laypersons think of science as a bunch of answers to questions. Just try to pin a scientist down about conclusions from their research. It’s like trying to eat a live cat. I think.

There can, of course, be exceptions when politics and money enter the scene. Scientists from some federal agencies, including NOAA, have said recently that they have been instructed to delicately circumvent the topic of climate change in their public speaking. And we know that ExxonMobil has invested in some misinformation of its own over the years. So your worries aren’t entirely misplaced. However, I think enough scientists and others have gotten outraged over this state of affairs that, were your NOAA guy spouting hooey, they would call him on it. Non-scientist that I am, I think he was probably relating good, solid information on the weather. Do I know that? Am I sure? Have I read all the relevant peer-reviewed journals? No, but presumably he has, and his job likely rests on his reputation.

El Niño by himself has quite an impact — both the weather system and the Christ child. But from what you report, the NOAA man didn’t say global warming would not affect El Niño, nor — and this is important — did he say global warming was no big deal. Let me hook you up with the NOAA explanation on the link between climate change and El Niño. And here is some general reading about El Niño from the University of Washington.

Don’t worry: you can still get angry about climate change and do something (drive less), even if the immediate weather is attributed to El Niño.