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Menopausal Mother Nature

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A Cold Start To Thanksgiving Week Will Spawn Climate Change Illiteracy – Forbes

I sit here on this cold November morning staring at 38 degrees F on my phone. During Thanksgiving week, I am seeing the potential for low temperatures in the twenties for parts of the Atlanta area. Like clockwork, I will also start to see Tweets and Facebook posts claiming that global warming or climate change is not real because its cold. These types of Tweets belong in the Hall of Fame (or Shame) of Climate Illiteracy. Let’s explain why.

I will start with a basic statement that even most elementary school kids understand. We experience different seasons on Earth because the planet is orbiting around the Sun on a tilted axis. According to a NASA website for kids, “Long, long ago, when Earth was young, it is thought that something big hit Earth and knocked it off-kilter. So instead of rotating with its axis straight up and down, it leans over a bit.” By the way, this collision is thought to have lofted rubble into the orbit, which ultimately became our Moon.

At some times during the year, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted more towards the Sun. At other times of the year (like now), it is starting to tilt way from the Sun. During Fall and Winter, the Sun’s radiation is impacting the Northern Hemisphere at a more shallow angle. The rays are also not as concentrated as they impact our atmosphere. If you want a conceptual demonstration, find that trusty flashlight in your drawer. If you shine the flashlight directly down on a table, the beam spot is more concentrated. However, ff you hold the flashlight at an angle, the beam spot is more diffuse. Conceptually, this is why the Fall and Winter seasons are cooler. Additionally, the amount of daylight heating starts to decline during the cold season.

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If you are still with me, it should be clear that even has our climate system warms (graphic below), we will still have Fall, Winter, cold temperatures, and even snow. Winter doesn’t stop because of climate change. Wait, let’s drop this nugget into the discussion. Weather variability during any given Fall or Winter season will also cause days that are warmer (or cooler) than normal. For example, the cold weather expected in the eastern United States during the first part of Thanksgiving week will be related to deep tough of low pressure extending from the Great Lakes region to the Gulf of Mexico. As a frontal system moves through the South late Sunday or Monday, cold air oozes into the region.

To sum this up, a cold day, week, or season does not define broader climate change any more than your mood today defines your personality. By the way, the converse of this statement is true as well. A hot day in the summertime doesn’t confirm climate warming. But guess what, we don’t need to use one day to know that climate is changing. Scientific observations and scholarly research now provide plenty of evidence that our planet is warming, heatwaves are becoming more frequent and intense, and extreme cold events (though they will still happen) are occurring with less frequency, on average. Weather is your mood, Climate is your personality. Remember, friends don’t let friends draw conclusions about climate based on one day or week.

While I clearly understand the science, I try to understand the psychology of why people think that a cold or snowy day disproves climate warming. I think part of it lies in the fact that extreme cold is less common now so when it happens, it is “breaking news.” The cold extreme that crippled Texas during the Winter of 2021 was headline-worthy for good reason. I also came across a really interesting 2014 study in the journal Climate Change. The findings noted that preconceptions about climate change shape how people see cold events. People with skeptical perspectives will use cold events to refute climate change. Others strongly see cold events like the Texas event as an example of amplifying extremes due to climate change. Finally, I think that for some people it is just counter-intuitive to think about climate change on a cold day. This may be a reflection of a bias called the availability heuristic, defined by Thedecisionlab.com website as, “our tendency to use information that comes to mind quickly and easily when making decisions about the future.”

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