In polite company, it's not proper to talk about religion, politics, or the weather

There’s an old saying that in polite company, it’s not proper to talk about religion or politics, so stick to neutral subjects like the weather to avoid conversational confrontation.  Nowadays, the climate on that subject has changed dramatically. 

Earlier this year, I attended a presentation on recent and projected short-term weather conditions for southwestern Pennsylvania.  The event was directed at specialists in the public health profession.  A meteorologist from the local National Weather Service office gave details on the region’s recent cold snap and estimated when he expected a warm-up for spring – all well and good, until an attendee turned the talk to anthropogenic climate change.

The participant was concerned that everything from local weather anomalies to ocean acidity and sea-level rise was attributable to people.  The same ubiquitous, dubious soundbite arguments targeting the culpability of Americans living comfortably were tossed out as if they were indisputable facts.  But the angst from the attendee was real.

Where did all this weather worry originate?

As a practitioner in the atmospheric science profession for 35 years, I have witnessed a great deal of change in the field of climatology.  Gone are the days when climate science was focused on the tedious collecting, analyzing, and disseminating of facts and figures from local, regional, and global data.  Today, it’s easy to find fame and fortune in forecasting frightening futures.

Since the early 1980s, social and political opportunists have been riding the arrogant confidence of a handful of authoritative scientists to trample the objectivity of climate reality.  So a mundane chat that includes “the balmy temperatures we’ve been having lately” becomes “what are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint to stop this global warming?”  The traditional “January thaw” morphs into clear evidence of “man-made climate change.”

And now, many of our betters in the federal government assure us that apparently specially imbued climatologists can be trusted to tell us if the Earth will still be habitable a hundred years hence or, as a minimum, which energy sources to invest in.

Thus, the divinations of a climate science high priesthood propped up by the power of the political class have warranted certainty about the future state of global conditions, which is certainly unwarranted, given the reality that global average temperature has leveled off over the past 18 years.  In fact, some scientists are seriously predicting an imminent substantial temperature drop worldwide based on trends in natural conditions that include sunspot activity and ocean circulation patterns.

Nevertheless, when a friendly conversation about the weather turns into a holy war against “climate deniers,” it’s time to recognize that the weather topic has become just another turbulent atmosphere suffused with religion and politics.

So be extra-careful what you talk about – the list of subjects for polite discussion is shrinking.

Anthony J. Sadar is a Certified Consulting Meteorologist and author of In Global Warming We Trust: A Heretic’s Guide to Climate Science (St. Louis: Telescope Books).