There’s still time for one more doozy of a snowstorm before winter gives up its ghost, I tell myself—although the next storm we get will be the first. We’ve had hardly any snow at all here this winter, which is saying something considering that I live in western New York, famous for the thick bands of lake-effect snow that pummel us every year. This year, not so much.
Everyone’s talking about it—what a mild winter we’ve had. How little snow has fallen. How warm it’s been. Everyone. And it’s not just here; it seems to be all across the country.
I can’t help but wonder about the missed opportunity: Why hasn’t someone been using the mild weather to bang the drum about climate change?
After all, people are already talking about it, even if they don’t realize they are. The weather is on everyone’s mind. It’s the topic of conversation every day. The theme for months has remained remarkably consistent: I can’t believe how mild this winter has been.
“What winter?” a friend asked. “I guess we got a little, but it was more like what they normally get 400 miles south of here.”
In Maine, my father had to limit his winter beaver trapping because a lot of ponds didn’t freeze over solidly enough. In Virginia, my friends were wearing shorts on a 70-degree February day. In Pennsylvania, my grandmother has had lower winter heating bills than she’s had in a decade.
We all have mild-winter anecdotes to share. (And I bet we all have some sweltering-summer anecdotes from a few months ago, too.) That’s exactly the point.
It baffles me that environmentalists haven’t taken that ball and run with it for all its worth. It’s not a great leap to draw “climate change” or “global warming” into the discussion. (“Global warming,” while not preferable as a term because it’s not particularly accurate, still makes that intuitive leap a lot easier.) It’s not the conversation, but it’s the perfect way into the conversation.
Suddenly, the complex issue of climate change literally becomes as simple as the weather outside right now.
“I think climate scientists are wary of it because it breaches scientific integrity,” one colleague suggested. “You can’t make too much of a single data point, and in the grand scheme of things, one year is a single data point.”
True enough. Climatologists do need to offer scientifically reliable facts and figures and evidence. Deniers, however, don’t give a shit. They sow doubt by feeding on emotion and selective, apocryphal anecdotes.
Well, this winter, climate scientists have had the single most effective anecdotal ammunition possible. People can relate to the weather, and they talk about it all the time. They can’t understand why it’s so mild. “Oh, you want to know? Well, let’s talk for a minute about climate change….”
I recognize that current weather is but one data point in the larger discussion, but does that mean it doesn’t have anecdotal value? I’m suggesting nothing more than using that anecdotal value for what it is—a way into popular consciousness—without making more of it than that. And as an anecdote, it at least has the power of being real and not apocryphal.
Climate change deniers can deny facts all they want, but let them deny the weather outside right now. Let them deny the lived, shared experience of millions. Sure, some dumbasses will still believe them, but there are a lot of people who are still persuadable in the debate over climate change, and what easier way to persuade them than to reframe what they’re already talking about.
There’s much else in the news vying for people’s attention. The primaries, in particular, have provided a lot of entertainment, especially for the media. The economy still sinks. Gas prices hurt. The Middle East continues to brew trouble. On and on.
Amidst all that, though, AccuWeather still boasts headlines like “Another Warm One,” “Warmest Spring in Years to Fuel Active Severe Weather,” and “Warm Weather Contributing to Lower Heating Bills.” The Weather Channel touts “Record Highs Into Weekend” and “Unusual Warmth: How Much Longer?” And that’s all just from the past few days. Among weather people, the warm temperatures are the news.
Everyone will always care about the weather. Everyone will always talk about it. Everyone will always marvel at it, especially when it’s out of the ordinary, as it’s been this year.
Why haven’t environmentalists and climate scientists owned that story?