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It’s going to be a chilly Thanksgiving in the Northeast, with near-record cold temperatures in some cities. Which means, of course, that you can expect to get an earful from Uncle Walter over your turkey and stuffing about how global warming is just a hoax. He might bring up sunspots. Or something about Al Gore.
Many of us have an Uncle Walter, to borrow the character from the Ben Folds Five song, in some form. People can be cantankerous and counterfactual at any age.
But how to respond?
Well, first of all, it is undeniably going to be colder than usual for this time of year. On Twitter, Zeke Hausfather, a climate researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, delivered a forecast of frigid temperatures and a high probability of climate denial:
The map shows the expected differences in temperatures from normal. In an interview, Mr. Hausfather said that the purple blotch on the map over the Northeastern United States meant that it would be “one of the coldest, if not the coldest, spot in the world” in terms of the anomalous temperature.
But, he added, that is “a little misleading, because the rest of the world is unusually warm right now.” That is easy to see on the map, which was produced by Karsten Haustein, a climate researcher at the University of Oxford. (Overall, the planet has warmed by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970, Mr. Hausfather noted.)
The urge to generalize from chilly fingers to climate denial is common in our supercharged political climate. President Trump seems to weigh in just about any time the mercury dips. But the logic doesn’t hold up, as the cartoonist Randall Munroe has shown.
We have discussed how to survive the Thanksgiving climate change argument before. The trick is not to get flustered in the moment that your debate partner brings up a theory or nugget of truthiness that you haven’t encountered before, such as a reference to the medieval warm period (irrelevant) or the allegation that the planet is actually cooling (nope).
If you must rebut, take a deep breath and excuse yourself for research. With the internet on our phones, a quick trip to the bathroom is like visiting the library, and sites like Skeptical Science and the denial response collection at Grist can be helpful.
Or you could refuse to engage. That’s what Mr. Hausfather does. He, too, has “a couple of Uncle Walters” on his wife’s side of the family, he said. “In general, there are just certain conversational topics we tend to avoid talking about at the Thanksgiving table to ensure civility.”
After all, he said, “At Thanksgiving, the last thing anyone wants to hear is you arguing with your uncle about it.”
But if he did have to boil his argument down to just a handful of sentences, he said, it would be this: “Weather is what happens on a day-to-day basis; climate is long-term changes over decades. Even in a warming world, there will be some places that are colder on a day-to-day basis.”
“The long-term changes in the earth’s climate are clear,” he added, and “a couple of cold weeks in the Northeast in November aren’t going to change that fact.”
Once you’re comfortably back home, you can send Uncle Walter this handy primer on global warming. It probably won’t convince him, but you knew that.