Fact check: Earth is warming, cold events do not prove global cooling
The claim: Cold events show Earth is cooling, not warming
A Dec. 15, 2022, article (direct link, archive link) circulating on social media pushes back on the notion that the Earth is warming.
"Carbon isn’t making the planet hotter. The sun is making it cooler," reads the article, published at richardsonpost.com. "The signs are everywhere for those of us not brainwashed by the global warming propaganda."
The article garnered more than 80 shares in six weeks on Facebook, according to Crowdtangle, a social media analytics tool.
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Our rating: False
Multiple lines of evidence show Earth's average temperature is increasing due to greenhouse gases released by human activity. Cold events, which can and do occur even on a warming planet, are not evidence that Earth's temperatures are cooling overall, researchers say. Fluctuations in solar output have a minimal impact on Earth's temperature.
Robust evidence shows Earth is warming due to human activity
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that global temperatures have warmed roughly 2 degrees since the 1880s and that the rate of warming has more than doubled since 1981.
Other independent climate agencies have reported similar trends.
Additionally, researchers have observed the consequences of this warming. For instance, both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing ice, which has already contributed to sea level rise.
Fact check: Misleading claim that high Northern Hemisphere snow cover means no global warming
This warming is clearly attributable to human activity – namely the release of greenhouse gases, such as CO2, which slows the escape of heat into space, Josh Willis, a NASA climate scientist, previously told USA TODAY.
"The amount of warming we see matches what we expect based on the increased CO2 we've added," he said in an email. "The timing of the warming matches the timing of the CO2 increase caused by people. Not only that, the timing of global sea level rise matches the CO2 increase."
Cold events don't show Earth is cooling
The article claims a series of recent cold events show Earth is not actually warming. However, cold events occur even on a warming planet, Sean Birkel, an assistant professor at the University of Maine and the Maine State Climatologist, told USA TODAY.
Fact check: Misleading data used in claim alleging a global cooling trend
Climate "variability can produce weather patterns that may bring cooler than normal temperatures to some locations for some period of time," he said in an email. "Meanwhile, the global temperature is still warmer than in decades past."
Recent and short-term observations can't be used to determine climate trends, he said.
Ahira Sanchez-Lugo, a NOAA climatologist, agreed.
"Cold waves do not disprove climate change just like heat waves do not prove climate change," she said in an email to USA TODAY.
The reality of global warming has been established by observations from thousands of temperature stations spanning multiple decades, she said.
Solar output fluctuates, impact on global temperatures minimal
The article points to the existence of solar cycles to support its claim that the sun and Earth are cooling, saying that Earth is "heading into a period of solar energy decline." However, solar cycles – which each last about 11 years – typically have only small effects on Earth's temperature, Alex Young, a NASA heliophysicist, told USA TODAY.
Solar output "changes about a tenth of a percent over the solar cycle," he said in an email. "This change in solar output goes up and down and it is estimated to affect Earth’s temperature by about a tenth of a degree Celsius (0.2 degrees Fahrenheit) or less."
Fact check: Climate change caused by humans, celestial 'magnetic state' not cause of extreme heat
While it is possible for a group of cycles to exhibit less solar activity than others – an event called a grand minimum – it is not clear when such an event might occur or whether it would cause significant global cooling, according to NASA.
However, some researchers have estimated that a future grand minimum could temporarily cool the Earth by about half a degree, according to the agency.
"This would, at best, slow down but not reverse human-caused global warming," reads the agency website.
USA TODAY reached out to the website that published the article for comment.
Our fact-check sources:
Ahira Sanchez-Lugo, Jan. 20-23, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Sean Birkel, Jan. 20, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Josh Willis, Jan. 17, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Alex Young, Jan. 23-24, Phone interview and email exchange with USA TODAY
NASA, accessed Jan. 24, FAQ: How Does the Solar Cycle Affect Earth's Climate?
NASA Earth Observatory, accessed Jan. 19, World of change: Global temperatures
NASA Vital Signs of the Planet, accessed Jan. 19, Evidence
NASA Vital Signs of the Planet, accessed Jan. 19, Sea level rise
NASA Vital Signs of the Planet, accessed Jan. 19, Ocean warming
NASA Vital Signs of the Planet, accessed Jan. 19, Global temperatures
NASA Vital Signs of the Planet, accessed Jan. 19, Ice sheets
NASA Vital Signs of the Planet, accessed Jan. 25, Carbon dioxide
Ask NASA Climate, Feb. 13, 2020, There Is No Impending 'Mini Ice Age'
Ask NASA Climate, Sept. 6, 2019, What Is the Sun's Role in Climate Change?
Yale Climate Connections, Dec. 15, 2020, Global warming is real, so why is it cold outside?
Met Office Climate Dashboard, accessed Jan. 19, Annual global mean temperature difference from pre-industrial conditions
NOAA, accessed Jan. 19, Annual 2022 Global Climate Report
NOAA, Sept. 1, 2009, Climate Change: Incoming Sunlight
USA TODAY, Jan. 20, Fact check: Global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions, not mysterious ocean warming
USA TODAY, May 31, 2022, Fact check: Climate change measured in decades, day to day temperature fluctuation common
The Washington Post, Jan. 29, 2019, What President Trump keeps getting wrong about ‘Global Waming’
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Despite cold events, Earth is warming, not cooling