Climate Variability: Why Can’t We Talk About It?

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Rep. Lamar Smith Chairman, House Science Space, and Technology Committee
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The Earth’s climate comprises one of the most complex natural systems ever known.  After decades of study, we continue to learn new and important information. Unfortunately, climate change has become such a partisan issue that recognizing any reason for this change besides a human influence is vilified as anti-science. Raising reasonable, fact-based inquiries should not be met with  hostility.  Such questions should be welcomed by scientists whose responsibility is to consider all sides of the scientific debate so that their research can influence policy decisions.

For instance, legitimate questions still remain about the Earth’s natural climate processes and cycles, also known as “climate variability.”  There are a number of factors to consider that have an effect on Earth’s climate.  Some of these causes of climate change include:

  • solar radiation;
  • atmospheric optical properties;
  • cloud cover;
  • vertical and horizontal wind;
  • surface roughness;
  • evaporation;
  • ocean currents;
  • soil moisture;
  • precipitation;
  • precipitable water vapor;
  • surface vapor;
  • temperature;
  • ice area;
  • and albedo.

Much more needs to be known about the impact of these natural phenomenon.

Earth based variations, such as multi-year weather patterns like El Niño, affect climate. These natural cycles between the ocean and our atmosphere can alter weather patterns around the world for years.  El Nino events are often associated with global warm temperature trends, as seen during and after the 1997 El Nino and the 2015 El Nino.  The warm temperatures linked with these cycles are often used as evidence of climate change yet legitimate questions remain about the influence of long-term weather patterns like El Nino on climate change.

Likewise, external variations, such as the variable amount of radiation from the sun, also impact Earth’s climate. Changes in the solar intensity of the sun over long periods of time probably cause ice ages.  Yet these natural and non-human variations are routinely downplayed by the media and kept from the public.  This is not to say that greenhouse gases from human activity do not play a role; they do. But all of these components have an influence and deserve scrutiny from the scientific community.

Also, we should recognize limitations to what we know about natural variability.  One such limitation is that we lack the scientific knowledge needed to determine how the Earth responds to different amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For example, when science could not explain the global warming hiatus from 1998 to 2013, some scientists speculated that the oceans were absorbing more warm temperatures than previously believed.

Likewise, much debate remains when predicting extreme weather events.  Many alarmists claim that the frequency of extreme weather events will escalate in the future due to climate change.  However, these claims are not confirmed by weather data.  A majority of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, and floods have not increased, which proves that some scientists have a hard time accepting the facts.

It is clear there is still more to learn about Earth’s climate. Instead of only focusing on the effects of human actions, we would be better served by continuing to research the full scope of issues impacting Earth’s climate. Evaluating and analyzing natural cycles will better inform how we respond and what actions might be taken.  Scientists should not limit their understanding by only considering causes of climate change that fit their slanted worldview.  To begin to understand the scope of climate science, scientists must investigate all reasonable, science-based approaches. This is the only way policymakers will have the information they need to make good decisions on climate change.

Congressman Lamar Smith represents the 21st district of Texas in the House of Representatives and is the Chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.