Winter storms spur climate change debate once again

The spate of severe winter weather gripping the United States this season has led to a fresh round of doubts about the climate change occurring around the world and whether mankind should try to slow the trend.

But J. Marshall Shepherd, the former head of the American Meteorological Society, says the storms are no reason to start doubting that global warming is occurring.

“It's winter; it's January or February, we get snow storms. That's important,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Saying that snowstorms disprove climate change theory, he said, is “like saying that since it's nighttime that the sun doesn't exist anymore.  On the other hand though, there is evidence, there's some scientific literature that suggests that jet stream patterns can be affected by the amplified warming that we're seeing up in the Arctic, because of climate change and global warming." 

Shepherd has a saying to differentiate between individual weather change and larger patterns: “Weather is your mood, climate is your personality. So you have to look beyond what's happening right outside your window,” he said.

 But for people like North Carolina’s Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, whose state is digging out from the snowstorm, there’s little that policymakers can do to change the larger trends.

McCrory came under fire in 2008 for saying that he tried to worry about cleaning up the environment and not becoming enmeshed in the global warming debate because “it’s in God’s hands.” Asked about that  comment again on “Face the Nation,” he said,” I feel there has always been climate change. The debate is really how much of it is man made and how much will it cost to have any impact on climate change.”

“My main argument is, let’s clean up the environment. And as a mayor and now as a governor, I’m spending my time cleaning our air, cleaning the water and cleaning the ground. And I think that’s where the argument should be on the left and the right. And if that has an impact on climate change, good,’” he said.

Though he doesn’t make policy, Shepherd says it’s his job as a scientist to be clear about the facts and make sure he is giving them to policymakers and the public in a fashion they can use effectively. “We clearly know that the climate is changing. There are aspects of that change that are related to human activities,” he said, though he cautioned against attributing every single major weather event on climate change.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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