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Heroes

3 ways to respond to the myth that Earth isn't getting hotter because it's cold out today.

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Natural Resources Defense Council

Much of the U.S. was hit with uncomfortably, unseasonably cold weather last weekend.

New York City was forced to bust out its collective parka about a month earlier than usual. And in Buffalo? Well...


With a mid-fall this chilly, one might be tempted to think that maybe this global-warming-climate-change thing isn't really such a thing after all.


Especially if you're this guy:


You've probably heard some version of this argument before: It's really cold out, therefore global warming isn't happening.

Trump's sarcastic crack makes a certain sort of intuitive sense. It's hard to stand outside on a freakishly cold day in early fall in the hoodie and cargo shorts you thought would be totally appropriate and think, "Yup. Global warming is definitely really for real."

Honestly, I wish Donald Trump were right.

Unfortunately, that's just not how it works.

Like so many things, while it may feel true, it actually isn't. Climate on a global scale is a huge, complicated beast, and long-term trends are impossible to suss out from simply walking outside on any given day.

Here's why a few abnormally cold days in summer, or abnormally huge snowstorms in winter, don't disprove the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real and happening right now.

1. Weather and climate are not the same thing.

One of those weather map thingies. Photo by the U.S. Weather Service.

Weather is what's happening now. Cold today? That's the weather. A little humid? Also the weather. Raining fish? Weird, but still the weather.

Climate is an average of conditions over years, decades, or centuries, even. Across the globe. Not just in New York City or Buffalo but also in Madrid, Botswana, and Kyoto. One cold day — even a very cold day — in one place doesn't even make a dent in the overall, planet-wide warming trend.

Think of it like your job.

In any given year, you're going to have some bad days, where you're turning in PowerPoints late and screwing up meetings and some good days where you're hitting your goals and getting firm, congratulatory back-pats from your boss. One bad day doesn't mean you're going to get fired, and one good day doesn't mean you're going to get a promotion.

But start to have too many bad days, and you might start to see your responsibility decrease and your boss become a lot less back-patty. You might even get fired. Even if you still have a good day every once in a while, it's probably not going to be enough to reverse the trend. You still might get fired.

Climate and weather basically work the same way. Zoom out to the climate view, and the facts are undeniable — the Earth is getting warmer. It can be freezing cold on any given day, in any given location. It might even snow in October in Buffalo. And the overall average temperature of Earth can still be increasing.

2. How much or how little it snows has little to do with how warm or cold it is.

Oh good. Photo by Al Jazeera English/Flickr.

This is the version you might see on the local news. "16 inches of snow downtown today! How 'bout that global warming, huh? Back to you, Ernie."

While it's certainly true that it has to be cold in order to snow at all, once you get around freezing, lower temperatures do not correlate with more snow. In the U.K., for example, snowfall tends to be greatest between 32 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit. It's more than possible that, in some places, warmer winters may result in more snow than colder ones.

3. Climate change causes all sorts of weird things to happen, including — very possibly — some places on Earth getting colder.

Ice! Photo by Craig Thom/Wikimedia Commons.

Remember "The Day After Tomorrow?" Hopefully not. It wasn't very good. But you definitely remember the poster. The one with the Empire State Building buried under 100 feet of snow or some such.

Some scientists say that the rapid warming of the Arctic might weaken atmospheric currents, pushing colder air further south and making it stay longer, resulting in the weather conditions like the "polar vortex" that slammed the U.S. Northeast and Midwest in 2014 and 2013.

It's totally counterintuitive, but the icy cold winter you're experiencing might not actually be in spite of climate change — but because of it.

Bottom line: While what's happening outside *right now* might be influenced by what's going on with the climate, it's never a perfect example of it.

Some days are warmer than they seem like they should be. Some days are colder than they seem like they should be. Especially for Donald Trump. But the underlying pattern remains the same.

Climate change: It's happening, and we gotta slam the brakes on it. Parka weather or not.

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