Why Is It So Cold If There's Global Warming?
Here in New England, we're cold. Really cold. We've had about a week of sub-zero temperatures, cold enough for school to be delayed opening, cold enough for ski areas to be far less populated than usual on school holiday, cold enough for outdoor cats to become temporary indoor cats. It's even cold enough to affect the sharks!
Why is it so cold this week if the earth is warming at an unprecedented rate? Does this week's frigid temperatures mean there's no such thing as climate change?
No. The vast majority of scientists around the globe agree that climate change is a very real problem. We are still grappling with climate change and a warming earth, even as we wrap layers around our heads and cut our sledding time by half.
It's important to understand that there's a difference between weather and climate. Weather is what we experience in the short term. A snowy day, a rainy afternoon, a sunny morning. These are all examples of weather, and we can predict the coming weather a few days out (though often we're wrong with out predictions!)
Climate is the study of weather patterns during a much longer period of time. Years instead of weeks. The year 2016 was the hottest year on record, even though during that year we had some very cold days!
It can be tempting to pull on your coat, hat, gloves, extra socks, and boots and think, “Phew, glad that global warming crisis is over!” as you head out into the cold, but unfortunately, that's not how it works.
Earth is still experiencing a general warming trend. You can see in this gif from NASA that our average temperatures are getting higher and higher every year.
One result of climate change is an increase in instances of extreme weather, such as hurricanes, snowstorms, flooding, wildfires, and arctic temperatures. So the super cold weather we're dealing with up North is actually a symptom of climate change, not an indicator that climate change is "fake news."
It's especially important for young people to recognize the difference between weather and climate! They are going to be the future scientists and politicians finding ways to combat global warming as we move forward and implement solutions to the problem of climate change.
Need some discussion questions for you classroom?
- What is the difference between weather and climate?
- How do scientists know that the climate is changing?
- How do we know the climate is changing because of humans and not just because of natural causes?
- What are some things we can do as individuals to help the climate?
- What are some things governments and large companies can do to slow climate change?
Try this COOL activity from the Nomad Press book Climate Change: Discover How It Impacts Spaceship Earth!