The weather outside is frightful

Back in the day they used to call it global warming – or even the greenhouse effect, a handy metaphor to explain how the earth’s atmosphere could be warming up. “They” back then meant Sen. Al Gore. In the 1980s I had the opportunity to hear Gore speak at environmental conferences and congressional hearings while I worked for the Ecological Society of America in Washington D.C. Gore was just about the only policymaker talking publicly about climate change at that time.

More than 25 years later, scientists understand far more about climate change than they did back then. They recognize that its effects go far beyond rising temperatures. But we still haven’t tackled the problem. One reason might be its complexity. Although few reputable earth scientists dispute that human – caused climate change is occurring, they often disagree on specifics. That allows deniers an opportunity to sow doubt. And to those of us in the eastern United States wondering if we’ll have to weather another polar vortex this winter, global warming might sound like a cruel joke.

But as my current piece in the Observer suggests, colder winters in the eastern United States might be the new normal. In it, I try to illuminate the challenges scientists face in predicting just how climate change will play out on the ground – accounting for the interplay between land, sea, air, and ice occurring across continents and around the globe – and answer everyone’s most immediate question: will this winter be as cold as last?

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