Here we are again, in the middle of winter. During the cold snap in the middle of January, overnight temperatures fell well below freezing here near Boston. Other places in the country were well below zero. At that time, I saw and heard remarks about how cold winters make people wonder about whether climate change is real. The legacy of the term “global warming” is still with us in 2024.
In 2019, I wrote about this topic. Today, I revisit it. Clearly, lots of people don’t get it, or don’t want to get it.
Climate change is made to look stupid to people who don’t believe it. How? Climate change was originally introduced to the public with the term “global warming.” Climate change deniers get photo ops of southern cities under snow, or people in Alaska wearing shirtsleeves in January.
Discussions of unnaturally cold weather in warmer regions and unnaturally warm weather in cold regions feed the sense that “global warming” does not explain it. Part of that is an intentional misunderstanding of what climate change is. The term “global warming” is accurate. It is also easy to misunderstand, if you are of a mind not to understand it.
To answer “Global warming is a hoax”
To answer such comments, there are several things you can do. I suggest that you use the technique of a Truth Sandwich. A Truth Sandwich is an attempt to state the truth, call out a lie (without repeating it), then repeat the truth again. The truth is always the bread on top and on bottom of the statement.
In this case, when you see someone posting a meme that says “If there’s global warming, why am I shoveling it?”, you can answer with a truth sandwich.
Truth: Actually, global warming is about the yearly average temperature everywhere on the planet. That is clearly rising. It does not mean that it will be uniformly warmer where you are right now.
Paraphrased, not repeated, lie: Using the term global warming confuses the issue. Most people now describe it as climate change for that reason.
Truth: Because the planet is warming, weather patterns are changing. Some places that never had snow are getting snow, there is an increase in forest fires, and an increase and change in the pattern of hurricanes, tornadoes and other dangerous weather events.
What not to do when discussing climate change
I hear many people remarking about how they are concerned about the warm days we are experiencing around New England this winter. From the sample of my friends and family, they focus on the unusual warmth. This feeds right into the hands of the deniers. All they need is freezing Chicago and South Carolina snowfall to show “the lie” of climate science.
Instead of talking about warm days, focus on the changes in climate patterns. That means remarking on usually warm and unusually cold winters, drought, flooding, and big storms. Understand what is happening with this weird winter. Use simple – non-science-y – language. Explain why it makes you concerned.
Here is an example from a scientist from the Adirondack mountains of New York, near Canada. He refuted climate deniers without making “global warming” seem stupid. Here is a way to explain what we are experiencing. He wrote:
“It’s kind of weird to think about the Arctic warming because we have all this cold air spilling out towards us— that air is colder than we’re used to experiencing.”
“But,” scientist Eric Leibensperger explained, “while we’re freezing down here with that cold air, places farther north, like in Alaska, have extraordinarily warm temperatures that they’re unaccustomed to as well.” [source]