In polite conversation, weather is the new ‘third rail’

If we can’t talk about the weather anymore, what future is there for human communication at all?

Sharon Brody, of public radio station WBUR, has noticed that weather has joined the list of topics which immediately divide us, even though it once was “go to” topic to de-escalate rising tensions surrounding hotter topics.

No more, she writes on the Cognoscenti blog today.

“Weather is now the third rail,” she says as a fourth nor’easter blizzard swirled outside.

Talking snow now is talking politics, she contends.

I get it. You were simply seeking safe, chatty ground. You tossed off a lament about these confounded back-to-back-to-back nor’easters. Yet instead of gracious murmurs of assent around the den, you got Uncle Clem slamming his Coors Lite can on the coffee table and hollering at your eyeballs, “Now how ‘bout that GLOBAL WARMING?”

Wait, but all you meant was…

“Well, little missy? Whatcha gonna say about all your p.c. ‘science’ now?”

And you are off to the races.

Or, not. The better plan might involve a pivot, such as suddenly admiring the display shelf full of hippo-themed salt and pepper shakers. Of course, you have the actual scientific evidence on your side. Obviously, the existence of climate change is not up for debate based on random belief any more than is, say, the existence of toenails.

But when the emotional charge is this intense, making your case on the basis of peer-reviewed research is not a path to peace. Your wise move here might be to retreat and distract, leastways if you want any chance at that artichoke dip.

Where weather was once benign, “it is now a battleground,” she writes.

But she’s generally cool with the new reality, if that’s what it takes to get people talking about climate change.

“If that urgent focus produces hostility among the masses and robs us of a conversational crutch when we’re in mixed company, then so be it. Progress is hard.”

  • MrE85

    I can’t say she’s wrong. Usually it’s the “Uncle Clems” who will bring it up, I have noted,

  • MrE85

    I like this example: “Climate is your entire wardrobe. Weather is what you wore today.”

  • 212944

    May I suggest that calling anything “the new third rail” now be the new third rail?

    • Guest

      Like most cliches, it is just so gosh darned useful to condense a whole concept into a short phrase.

  • Guest

    It certainly is a LOT easier to find examples of warming than cooling. I feel the whole debate faltered when it was first discussed. Skepticism about CO2 being the sole cause was met with derision and ruined careers…..not a good way to persuade, perfect way to rant.

    “Science” is fact. We should throttle the US economy and subsidize poor countries so hopefully they can join the fight against CO2 is politics.

    Science is asking does draining whole water tables to irrigate crops + burning of fossil fuels increase H2O and what is the relative impact of both H2O and CO2 rising over the last decades. Which is cause and which is effect?

    Tough to converse politely when being dismissed at the start.

  • jon

    What I’ve been trying to figure out is why deny climate change… or evolution for that matter…

    My father is a big climate change denier, even in fact of the common sense arguments, and even with a decent understanding of green house gases and such…
    He is however also an avid burner of fossil fuels, with a camper and a jeep both getting terrible gas mileage, and in the summer 100 mile motorcycle trips to nowhere for no reason other than he wanted to ride a motorcycle that morning…

    Guilt is what I came to in his case… if burning fossil fuels is bad, and we know it now, he has burn far more than his share for no particular purpose, so admitting to himself that he has destroyed the planet is hard… and changing his behavior is harder (though I know he’d love driving a Tesla, I’m never going to sell him on that idea, he has opted to be set in his ways, because changing them would be an admission that his ways were wrong and bad…)

    This hasn’t given me any incite into changing his mind (yet) but understanding his position that an admission that he is killing the planet would be hard for him is a great place to start…

    (this reasoning is specific to one person, other people deny the existence of global warming because libtretards support it(with some deeper connotations there)… no idea how to reason with them either… but an understanding of why is a start.)

    • Guest

      YEP, most folks have a stance based on emotion, not a spreadsheet of facts.

    • Jimbo

      Either emotion or desire not to feel compelled to change, or fear of Govt or some empowered bureaucrat telling them what do do. I think fear of more Govt regulation and control is a reasonable fear, but the solution is to get engaged and seek ways to address climate change that preserve choices (carbon tax) and let people react to prices rather that Govt dictat. Deniers just remove themselves from the debate and ultimately will regret it because the debate just moves forward without them. Another cliche: if you aren’t at the table, you are on the menu.

      • The climate is going to do what the climate is going to do whether we agree about the climate is doing or not.

    • Jay T. Berken

      “What I’ve been trying to figure out is why deny climate change”

      Greed and power (does not in you dad’s case though). We have the Koch Brothers and old Texas oil wildcatters whom are in their 80s that say, ‘hey, climate change does not effect me; i’m dead in the next decade or so. I want more money.’

      • MikeB

        But not greed and power by middle class folk. They don’t like the implications of what is needed to change. They don’t want to hear “elitists” telling them they have to change their habits. They don’t accept expert opinion when inconvenient.

        I used to hear a lot about the evils of moral relativism by those who called themselves conservatives. In the vein of “pick your enemies wisely” they have become what they railed against.

        • Jay T. Berken

          I understand the implications of change. I feel it in myself technology can change so fast, and that I feel like I have to learn a new program every year to keep up in my industry (and I’m in the conservative utility business). I understand it, but we as a society can adapt. Look no further then the smart phone next to you on your desk. Look at the early 1900s. In 1900, our primary transportation was the horse and carriage, and in 1930 it was the automobile.

          The middle class see climate change as a political football drummed up by big money (i.e. Kochs and Texas oil). What they mostly care about is energy (gas) prices and convenience.

      • It’s human nature to deny the existence of that which we fear the most.

        • Jay T. Berken

          Especially when billions of dollars are going into smear campaigns to drum up fear of higher gas prices and taking ones ‘freedom’.

    • MrE85

      I’m just guessing here, but does your father identify himself as a conservative? Once an issue gets labeled as “liberal” or “conservative,” it is very hard to have a rational talk about it if the person you’re talking to is in the opposite camp.

      My parents were both lifelong Republicans. Thankfully, we could still talk about the weather back then.

      • emersonpie

        Where one stands on the political spectrum must surely be the main indicator for where one shakes out on climate change. My father and his best bud are huge Limbaugh-Fox News devotees. They both are dismissive of climate change warnings. Even though, before they retired, they were science teachers, of physics and chemistry, and good ones. Fifty years ago when they were in their early teaching years, I believe they would have followed the data. Now they have been brainwashed by right-wing media, and they fall for the party line.

        Folks on the left aren’t immune, either. GMO and vaccine controversies have some liberals ignoring the science too.

        • Plus, the older you are, the less risk there is in ignoring climate change.

  • Jeffrey

    There was a great program on PBS Tuesday night about Rachel Carson and her book the Silent Spring. It said the book launched the modern environmental movement. The program also illustrated the criticism and discrediting she and the book received from the chemical industry. I found many similarities to the present day situation with climate change
    I think we need a “Silent Spring” for climate change.

    • Guest

      PART of it all is changing pesticides, switching from Freon for air conditioners for the Ozone and other changes for the environment are “hidden”. Shaming someone for his choice of pickup is personal.

      Having government take a tax on CO2 and re-distribute it, or force a choice of lightbulbs / thermostat setting gets folks riled up.

      Plus folks don’t connect their personal efforts to “saving the planet” when others (China coal plants) don’t have to.

      Ask a mayor how much easier it is to raise taxes to harden the town against flooding (hospital generators out of the basement) compared to the same taxes to lower CO2.

  • Jim in RF

    I think WBUR’s concern about using weather as an ice-breaker (how about that pun?) might be overstated, and Clem wouldn’t be drinking Coors Light on the east coast. Probably more like Keystone Light.

  • Jeff

    I’m convinced that had it not been Al Gore (or any other politician) who brought the conversation about Climate Change/Global Warming to the forefront, we’d be much further along on the issue. Despite his best intentions, for many people it became political ideology instead of science the moment they heard “Al Gore.”

  • Kellpa07

    As the government directly affects more of our lives, EVERYTHING becomes political.
    You will be made to care.

  • So…how ’bout them Twins?

    • jon

      Playing in that stadium paid for by my tax dollars!?!?!?!?!

      • MrE85

        Opposition to taxpayer-paid stadiums is actually one of the few things I’ve seen liberals and conservatives agree on in this state.

        • Jack

          Amen brother!

        • Kellpa07

          I still don’t understand how we all lost. Except that none of the pills were willing to tell the Vikings they could leave, even when there was very little chance they would.

  • “Hi, neighbor. Have a ‘gansett.”