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.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less