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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

On the polar vortex and climate communications

Just a few quick thoughts on this from my vantage point as a retired communications specialist:

- There is no point in explaining how and why the polar vortex may be the result of global warming.  I've seen a few articles popping up along these lines lately, and my advice is, save your breath. Even though I think it's probably true (disruption of a complex system via a massive influx of heat can lead to chaotic results), few if any climate scientists are going to be willing to provide credible support.  Most of them haven't even been willing to state that extreme weather events that seem very plausibly related, such as the great U.S./Canada heat wave of spring 2012 or the terrible Russian heat wave of summer 2010, are due to human-caused climate change.  Without that credible backing, you're dead in the water.

- Trying to connect the vortex and global warming sounds deceptive on its face.  Any explanation of how and why the two might be connected is necessarily complex and subject to many unknowns.  That being the case, what the average person hears is, "Yada, yada, everything is due to global warming."  This does nothing for the credibility of science communications--instead, it just gives those in denial an easy counter.

- The polar vortex event is a one-off and should be treated as such.  This just in--as I was drafting, a tweet appeared from the estimable Heidi Cullen referring to graphics from many cities showing that extreme cold events have become more rare since 1970. That's a good way to go in handling this event (and don't say "no weather event can be used to demonstrate climate"--the time is surely coming when such events will be so extreme they can no longer be ignored).

- Better to focus on the weather extremes that have been predicted by climate science and are continuing to happen as we speak.  Within the past month:

Heat waves, drought, precipitation extremes--all have been predicted and are reasonable to expect as results of a warming planet.

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