Climate Disruption With a Chance of Snow

How to talk about climate change when it's really cold out.
This post is part of the research project: Flashcards
Photo Credit: Salvan via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Salvan via Compfight cc

Brrrrr….It’s freezing. So much for global warming, huh?

We heard this kind of thing a lot during the early January cold snap when everyone was talking about the Polar Vortex (a.k.a. the jet stream)—along with claims far more outlandish and sensationalized. And we’re hearing it again this week as temps dropped and snow blanketed the East Coast.

Global warming is a scary prospect; it’s no wonder lots of people jump at the chance to explain it away when the weather gets cold. (I’d sure like the whole big, gnarly problem to disappear in one cold snap too. But, alas…) It’s important to understand where they’re coming from and empathize (rather than villainize—perhaps excepting the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump).

So how do we tactfully clear up the misunderstandings and advance a productive conversation about climate change?

Luckily when blizzards come with a flurry of climate science skepticism, there are scientists, science journalists, meteorologists and all kinds of experts at the ready to stand up and say: ActuallyNot so fast!

Following their lead, here are some strategies for talking about climate change and cold weather. First, state the basics—clearly and confidently. Human-caused warming is tampering with the climate and we’re seeing impacts in extreme weather events. Focus on trends and the big picture. A single event does not a pattern make. Global average temperatures are rising and while it may be unseasonably cold in North America, it’s unusually mild in Alaska, it’s blazing hot in Australia. And the last decade was the hottest on record. As always, it’s important to find common ground by explaining why it matters (this is where you talk about our responsibility to our kids) and balancing the bad news with reason for hope (this is where you talk about solutions that are ready to go).

Climate Disruption and Cold Snaps

Start with the basics: Pollution from coal, oil, and gas is throwing the climate out of whack. We’re seeing extremes like drought, floods, heat waves—and even cold. Arctic warming may weaken the jet stream, causing cold air to wander farther south.
Focus on trends: Think of climate as personality and weather as mood. Average temperatures are rising. The last decade was the warmest on record. Over time, the climate’s personality is shifting and it’s already making the weather moodier.
Say why it matters and what we can do: We owe it to our kids to shift from dirty fuels to clean energy. Solutions are ready to go. We shouldn’t let naysayers, or politics, or oil and coal profits stand in our way.

Of course some of your skeptical friends may respond best to snark and humor. For a “snow trolling montage,” see here. For some Polar Vortex humor (with a good dose of reality), don’t miss Borowitz and Jon Stewart.

Sightline Flashcards are messaging memos designed as short, scannable tools for sharing effective communications strategies. Our strategic communications team digests piles of public opinion research, transcripts from speeches, expert advice, and academic studies—from cognitive linguistics and neuroscience to political science, sociology, and psychology—distilling best practices in messaging. Flashcards often focus on values-based communication: strategies for talking about important policies or issue solutions in terms of shared values.

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  1. Matt the Engineer says:

    Or just forward them today’s XKCD comic.

    • Anna Fahey says:

      Nice! Thanks, MtE.

  2. Matt M says:

    Thanks for your clear, concise suggestions, Anna.

  3. John Byrne says:

    It is Global Climate Change – just as you state – the jet stream moves – changed.

    One aspect that should be mentioned – is that reducing the use of fossil fuels is something we have to consider anyhow. There are a limited quantity.

    Another aspect – is that we can travel less – waste less – and live a better life style – more in tune with our psychological and social needs.

  4. Paul Hackl says:

    And remember that nature abhors a vacuum. If cold air is not where it should be, i.e. in higher latitudes, what is in it’s place? Warm air from the lower latitudes! It is exactly the sort of GLOBAL climate change climatologist have been talking about.

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