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How the Weather Gets Weaponized in Climate Change Messaging

Climate Communication
Climate Nexus
Media Matters
the University of Georgia
George Mason University
the School of Public and Environmental Affairs
Indiana University
the University of Alabama

Brad PlumerWant
Susan Joy Hassol
David B. Srere
Hunter Cutting
James Inhofe
out?Marshall Shepherd
Edward Maibach
George Mason
David M. Konisky
Wanyun Shao



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The New York Times
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Sign up here for Climate Fwd:, our email newsletter.WASHINGTON — In the summer, when heat waves scorch cities or heavy rains flood the coasts, some climate scientists and environmentalists will point out any plausible connections to global warming, hoping today’s weather will help people understand tomorrow’s danger from climate change.Then winter comes. That raises the stakes for how scientists, who have long tried to distinguish between short-term weather fluctuations and long-term climate shifts, draw out and discuss the links between the two.“Weather, and especially extreme weather, is how most people will experience climate change,” said Susan Joy Hassol, director of the science outreach nonprofit group Climate Communication. Partly that’s because, as climate models have improved, scientists have been able to demonstrate more rigorously how rising greenhouse gas emissions have made recent heat waves or droughts more intense or more likely to occur — a budding field known as “extreme weather attribution.” Scientists have also refined their communication strategies, using metaphors like “loaded dice” to talk about how global warming is now making certain severe weather events more likely.“The conversation today couldn’t be more different than it was a decade ago,” said Hunter Cutting, director of strategic communications for Climate Nexus, a nonprofit group focused on climate issues. But a lot of people out there are legitimately curious” about how global warming can be real if it’s cold out today.That raises the question of whether the messaging skirmishes around severe weather and climate change are swaying public perceptions, or whether each side is just preaching to those who are already converted.There are some signs opinion is shifting. But, she has also found, a consistent string of shifting weather — year after year of increasing summer heat, for instance — does start to chip away even at conservative doubt about global warming.“For some people, it takes more time,” she said.

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