Brrrrr….It’s freezing. So much for global warming, huh?

We heard this kind of thing a lot during the early January cold snap when everyone was talking about the Polar Vortex (a.k.a. the jet stream)—along with claims far more outlandish and sensationalized. And we’re hearing it again this week as temps dropped and snow blanketed the East Coast.

Global warming is a scary prospect; it’s no wonder lots of people jump at the chance to explain it away when the weather gets cold. (I’d sure like the whole big, gnarly problem to disappear in one cold snap too. But, alas…) It’s important to understand where they’re coming from and empathize (rather than villainize—perhaps excepting the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump).

So how do we tactfully clear up the misunderstandings and advance a productive conversation about climate change?

Luckily when blizzards come with a flurry of climate science skepticism, there are scientists, science journalists, meteorologists and all kinds of experts at the ready to stand up and say: ActuallyNot so fast!

Following their lead, here are some strategies for talking about climate change and cold weather. First, state the basics—clearly and confidently. Human-caused warming is tampering with the climate and we’re seeing impacts in extreme weather events. Focus on trends and the big picture. A single event does not a pattern make. Global average temperatures are rising and while it may be unseasonably cold in North America, it’s unusually mild in Alaska, it’s blazing hot in Australia. And the last decade was the hottest on record. As always, it’s important to find common ground by explaining why it matters (this is where you talk about our responsibility to our kids) and balancing the bad news with reason for hope (this is where you talk about solutions that are ready to go).

Climate Disruption and Cold Snaps

Start with the basics: Pollution from coal, oil, and gas is throwing the climate out of whack. We’re seeing extremes like drought, floods, heat waves—and even cold. Arctic warming may weaken the jet stream, causing cold air to wander farther south. Focus on trends: Think of climate as personality and weather as mood. Average temperatures are rising. The last decade was the warmest on record. Over time, the climate’s personality is shifting and it’s already making the weather moodier. Say why it matters and what we can do: We owe it to our kids to shift from dirty fuels to clean energy. Solutions are ready to go. We shouldn’t let naysayers, or politics, or oil and coal profits stand in our way.

Of course some of your skeptical friends may respond best to snark and humor. For a “snow trolling montage,” see here. For some Polar Vortex humor (with a good dose of reality), don’t miss Borowitz and Jon Stewart.

January 24, 2014