The Polar Vortex and the Climate

This article is part of David Leonhardt’s newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it each weekday.

Cold enough for you?

The temperature fell below minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit in much of the Midwest yesterday, colder than Siberia, Mount Everest’s base camp and parts of Antarctica have been this week. Predictably enough, climate-change deniers, like President Trump, have used the polar vortex as an excuse to spout fictions.

I’ve argued before for using weather patterns as evidence of climate change, and I continue to think it’s the right thing to do. Nothing else — not dark visions of the future, not appeals to future generations, not promises of green jobs — has yet inspired the necessary action on the climate. The growing frequency of extreme weather has the potential to change people’s minds.

But how should we think about extreme cold?

The most obvious and important answer is that the earth is a dynamic place, and a warming planet is still going to be very cold at times, just as a sick person feels healthy some days.

That’s not the only answer, though. The federal government’s main climate agency, known as NOAA, shared a helpful explainer about cold weather this week. As the scientists noted, climate change increases the amount of water vapor in the air, and this increase seems to help cause wintry weather. “Not only are severe snowstorms possible in a warming climate, they may even be more likely,” the agency has written.

Climate change is complicated, and many of its effects remain uncertain. It is warming the planet but can also lead to more winter storms. It appears to be increasing the number of extreme hurricanes but not the total number of hurricanes. And it is leading both to more droughts and more extreme rain.

But don’t confuse these nuances and the scientific uncertainty with doubt about the overall picture. The planet is changing, and the changes threaten our children’s and grandchildren’s quality of life. Most of the people who claim otherwise are, knowingly or not, doing the bidding of companies that benefit from producing dirty energy.

Calling female readers

Only about 30 percent of letters submitted to The Times come from women. My colleagues who run the Letters to the Editor section want to change that. They’ve set a benchmark of parity — 50 percent from each sex — by February 2020. They will report publicly on their progress.

The readership of this newsletter is closer to 50-50. So I encourage everyone who’s written to me over the past few years — and everyone who hasn’t — to consider sending a letter to The Times when the spirit moves you.

My advice to letter writers: Organize your letter around one clear, specific point. If you need a single paragraph to make the point, that’s fine. If you need several paragraphs, that’s fine, too. As you’re writing the letter, try to imagine the headline that would appear over it. Doing so can focus you on that central point.

A free press

During an Oval Office interview with President Trump yesterday, The Times’s publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, spoke to Trump about his anti-press rhetoric. “Your rhetoric is creating a climate in which dictators and tyrants are able to employ your words in suppressing a free press,” Sulzberger told the president. You can listen to more on today’s episode of The Daily podcast.

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