I don’t know if you all noticed this, but we got a lot of snow this weekend. So much snow in fact, that Colgate actually cancelled classes for the first time in, like, one hundred years. Well, not actually, but it was a pretty significant and exciting event. However, while talking to friends about the wild weather, I couldn’t help but notice how all the comments blamed the recent temperature fluxes on climate change. I’ve also seen quite a few memes which joked about the difficult balance of enjoying unusually warm weather while feeling uneasy about the fact that it is influenced by climate change. I recognize that these are just jokes, poking fun at the rollercoaster that is Central New York weather, but these comments highlight some pretty common misconceptions about climate change that I would like to address.
First of all, it is nearly impossible to point to one weather event and state that it is an effect of global climate change, as there is a fundamental difference between weather and climate. Weather “is the day-to-day state of the atmosphere, and its short-term variation in minutes to weeks,” while climate “is the weather of a place averaged over a period of time, often 30 years,” according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Scientists can make educated assertions that widespread changes like sea level rise or rising temperatures are caused by humans, but there is no way to prove that the recent snowfall was directly due to anthropogenic climate change. Making these comments also opens up the opportunity for climate change deniers to make uneducated and oppositionary comments about wacky weather events. For example, this past December the East Coast experienced a record breaking cold snap and President Trump used similar logic to make this tweet in response to the cold weather: “perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old global warming…” By inaccurately lumping a few unusual weather events which affected only a small area, into the category of climate change, it allows for those who are uninformed on the subject to make an easy and ignorant argument against its existence.
Furthermore, climate change is a much more serious issue than a few extra inches of snow in March or a seventy degree day in February. Climate change poses a grave threat to the lives of millions of people around the world. Yes, there are some locations, like New York State, who will experience less dramatic climatic changes, but there are also many places that people now call their homes that will become unlivable due to increasing temperatures. Droughts and natural disasters will become more extreme. We have already seen extreme weather events throughout this past decade that have cost people their lives. Rising sea levels will engulf coastlines and islands, causing people to lose their houses, their livelihood and their way of life. I’m not trying to use the scare tactic, because I think the consequences of climate change are scary enough. However, I do think we should be more cognizant of how we talk about climate change. Let’s be excited about the amazing snow day we all got to enjoy and continue to make funny memes, but we should also help educate others about the difference between weather and climate, as well as the significant implications of global climate change.
Contact Makenna Bridge at [email protected]