At Science Over Everything, we do our best to help our readers understand how current events in science matters in their daily lives. While there is little disagreement on the causes and mechanisms within the scientific community, climate change has become one the most discussed and divisive subjects today. It’s a topic that generates a lot of misconceptions, inaccurate information can be circulated and scientific facts can be misconstrued. It’s a challenging subject to try to inform the public on, especially given the present political discourse in a America. Which makes it’s the perfect time to do a three part series tackling climate change myths.
You may ask why we take the time to do this, when articles such as this often only serve to reinforce the bias of some readers, while turning off others. However, if we are to live up to our name, that we truly value science over everything, including politics, then we have to dispel the many myths and fallacies out there from intelligent people on both sides of the argument. It is important than ever is educate the public in science literacy in a way that is easily understood and approachable. So if you don’t think global warming is real, I encourage you to keep an open mind with how we have addressed these misconceptions. If you are already concerned with how the Earth’s climate is changing, I encourage you to do the same. Afterall, as Neil DeGrasse Tyson says, the one good thing about science is that it’s true whether you believe it or not.
Myth 1: It’s cold out, therefore the Earth can’t be warming.
Like most places in the Northern Hemisphere, Ohio (where I live) has been experiencing the coldest temperatures of the year for the past few months. With spring still several weeks away, you may see something on social media explaining that the snowy, icy days that we experience during winter disproves years of scientific climate research. You might even see an elected officials throw a snowballs around the US Capitol building in January, proving the planet could not possibly be warming if there is snow on the ground.
However, cold weather in one part of the world does not mean the climate overall is not changing. We experience winter, and all seasons for that matter, because of the tilt of our Earth’s axis. The Earth does not spin at an angle perpendicular with its plane of rotation. Called obliquity, the Earth is tilted about about 23°. As a result the Sun’s energy does not hit the surface evenly, which has important repercussions on global weather patterns.
Between the late September and late March, the Northern Hemisphere is angled away from the Sun. This means the Sun’s energy absorbed by the Earth is spread out over a larger area, resulting in (generally) colder temperatures in that hemisphere. The closer you are to the pole, the less direct sunlight you will receive, which means the further North you go, the (generally) colder your winter will be. You can see evidence of this title by the shorter days in late December, with, depending on where you live, sunsets as early as 5:00 PM.
During the same time, the Southern Hemisphere is angled towards the Sun, exposing it to more direct energy, and causing (generally) warmer temperatures. While the Northern Hemisphere experiences cold weather and little daylight, those who live south of the equator enjoy long, warm, days. But as the Earth continues on its orbit, the side that is tilted towards the Sun changes, resulting in a regular pattern of seasons that mirror opposites in each hemisphere. In a few months, the Northern Hemisphere will be angled toward the Sun, resulting with more direct sunlight, warmer temperatures, and the season of summer. This excellent interactive illustrates the tilt of the Earth and how the sunlight is distributed as it moves around the Sun (click “continue to interactive” in the top right corner to play).
Cold days in winter do not prove the climate is not changing. Experiencing frigid temperatures while the hemisphere where you live is facing away from the Sun is not indicative of the overall climate is not changing. It’s the result of our Earth being a bit lopsided as it orbits the Sun and solar energy being distributed disproportionately. Colder days in February are to be expected in most of Europe and North America as a result of the title of the Earth’s axis.
However, the Earth is a complicated system, and there’s more factors than just the tilt of the axis. Air and ocean currents play a critical role in distributing heat energy around the planet. The Gulf Stream carries warm water from the Caribbean all the way to Northern Europe, causing their winters to be more temperate than would be expected given its latitudes. There’s also atmospheric composition, which if altered, could change how the Sun’s energy is absorbed by the Earth. In order for us to uncover any changes to the global temperatures, we are going to have to look at climate data around the world. Good news, we have a lot of that data, and we will be looking at that in Part 2
In the meantime, read our (very first article) on the Top 5 Reasons Why Climate Change Would Suck for the Average American.