This map, showing deviation from normal temperatures by part of the world in February, is stunning. And for advocates of taking strong action on climate change, probably a little depressing.
When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that 2014 was the warmest year on record, we couldn't help but notice that the Eastern United States was among the places that recorded their coldest temperatures last year. The year-end map was the minor league version of the map above, which shows a giant blue blanket over half of the country -- despite this being the warmest winter on record.
That eastern half, of course, is where most of America's residents live and all of its federal legislators work. Which is why we get things like Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) bringing a snowball to the Senate floor for show-and-tell. Inhofe was right in one sense: February did end up being colder than usual. And for those who insist that cold weather disproves the idea of a warming climate (which it obviously doesn't), that was just more fodder.
The most powerful parts of the world were, on the whole, significantly less warm during the record-setting February. Compare the map at the top of the page with the ones below, contrasting population (using data from NASA) and, to measure relative power, economics (from the World Fact Book) across the planet. Western Europe and the Eastern United States were colder than many places -- and disproportionately economically powerful.
Quick explanation: The darker the color, the higher the value relative to the rest of the world. "Wealth times population" is simply the average income in each location (based on country) times the population in that location. Each map is broken down into one-degree latitude/longitude blocks. View large versions: population; income.
And it's economics that often motivates opposition to taking action on climate change, as we pointed out earlier this week. There is an up-front cost to addressing climate change, which is why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested that power generators simply ignore a federal mandate to clean up emissions. (The emissions from power production are among the largest contributors to the atmospheric gases that are warming the planet.)
There's some psychology at play, too. People are less willing to accept findings that the climate is warming when it's cold outside. Which is sort of logical, and sort of not. But it means that trying to address climate change during a record cold snap is an uphill battle.
On Thursday, President Obama will sign an order cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the federal government. It will spur the now-expected response from opponents to such action. Some of them will almost certainly point to the weather in doing so. It's cold out! How can the climate be warming? The answer: Last month, it was warming dramatically in the least politically convenient locations for advocates of moves like Obama's.