It’s OK to joke about the cold, but really not if you’re the president

The president’s recent tweet is a damning evasion of climate responsibility.

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If we haven’t done it ourselves, we probably know someone who has. You walk outside on a particularly raw morning, fingers freezing to your door key, and your sleep-addled brain fumbles around for a lightly acerbic remark about the cold. “Could do with a bit more climate change today”, suddenly spills, unbidden, out of your mouth.

And that’s OK. There is still a need for ice-breakers – even when the ice caps are melting at an existentially disturbing rate.

This is not in any way to minimise the death and destruction that global warming is already wreaking across the globe – from wildfire victims to the climate refugees. But perhaps those horrors are also why we should go easy on attempts at indirectly related humour. Because life is too short not to try and elicit a smile.

That dynamic utterly changes, however, when the person making such a comment is the President of the United States. On Monday this week, when Donald Trump tweeted a request for global warming to “come back fast”, he was not aiming for smiles – but mass deception.

“In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!” the President wrote.

His suggestion – that the historically low temperatures currently sweeping the United States are unrelated to climate change – was quickly shot down by scientists.

Not only are average global temperatures still rising, but data on rainfall, drought and heatwaves shows that global warming leads to a variety of extreme weather events. And while there is not yet sufficient evidence gathered to explain exactly how man-made climate change connects to cold snaps, the likelihood is that the two phenomena are correlated.

As this article on the website of the government agency NOAA explains, record cold is likely to become more frequent as the warming climate causes more water to evaporate, and then fall as either rain or snow. Meanwhile, the rapidly melting Arctic sea ice may be contributing to the unstable jet stream, which is seeing cold weather dip much further south than normal.

For the President of the United States to feign ignorance of this science is more than bad humour – it is wilfully misleading. For while most people have little opportunity in their daily lives to do much to tackle the vast, planet-sized problem (in which laughter becomes a form of anxiety release), America’s political leader has a huge capacity to intervene.

The fact Donald Trump has chosen not to reduce America’s climate-warming emmissions means his misspelt “joke” is not just unfunny, it is an evasion of responsibility for the climate-related suffering his actions will cause.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.