The difference between weather and climate, explained for Donald Trump

There’s always a bit of a question, when it comes to a Donald Trump tweet, whether to rise to the bait. Normally, I advise friends and family to ignore the president of the United States and go about their day. There’s simply too much stress, anxiety, and mental energy being devoted to refuting the loony rationales and highly suspect leaps in logic that lead to these online eruptions.

Paying too much attention to them is the surest way to wear oneself out, and furthermore, the tweets often serve to distract from the more disturbing facts and reporting about what the Trump administration is up to, like the number of patently unqualified nominees for federal judgeships Trump has put forward, or the mockery of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under Mick Mulvaney. And finally, there’s just nothing to be gained from getting into the Twitter mud to wrestle with a pig: you both get dirty, but the pig likes it.

But then, yesterday (Dec. 28), Trump tweeted this:

Unfortunately, this demands a response. There are two options here: Trump either understands the theory behind climate change and is trolling people who believe the scientific facts, or he is ignorant of the difference between weather—you know, that thing that changes day to day—and climate, the macro-level conditions that determine what kind of environment a region of the world is: how many seasons it has, how much rainfall and how many storms it gets, and what temperature bands its weather fluctuates within.

To get some clarity on which option is most likely, let’s look at Trumps’ previous statements on climate change:

Oh dear.

Presciently, Forbes yesterday ran a piece by contributor Marshall Shepherd entitled “A Response For People Using Record Cold U.S. Weather To Refute Climate Change.” Shepherd writes:

Weekly or daily weather patterns tell you nothing about longer-term climate change (and that goes for the warm days too). Climate is defined as the statistical properties of the atmosphere: averages, extremes, frequency of occurrence, deviations from normal, and so forth. The clothes that you have on today do not describe what you have in your closet but rather how you dressed for today’s weather. In reality, your closest is likely packed with coats, swimsuits, t-shirts, rain boots, and gloves. In other words, what’s in your closet is a representation of “climate.”

And goes on:

What we are seeing right now in the United States is just,………well……wait for it……”winter”…..Even as climate warms, we will always have winter (cold weather, snowstorms, blizzards). Winter is related to how the Earth is tilted on its axis as it moves around the Sun.

Why will it be freezing in Times Square in New York City, when the New Year’s ball drops? Not because climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. No, it will be cold there because it’s winter in the northern hemisphere.

The way it works, put another way, is this: Every year, winter is coming. And hey! Now winter is here.

This argument goes both ways: Just as it would be incorrect to say a few extra-cold days in December mean global warming is a hoax, it’d be incorrect to say we can know for sure that the starving polar bear recently caught on video is suffering due to climate change. He could be old, or he could have a disease. It would be irresponsible to leap to one conclusion without more evidence.

Which is why my colleague Marc Bain wrote:

One 2015 study found that the polar bear population in the southern Beaufort Sea had declined 40% because of the loss of sea ice. A 2017 study by the US Geological Survey and the University of Wyoming concluded that bears are also spending more energy walking across a “treadmill” of drifting sea ice caused by warming, and needed to eat more to compensate. According to the Washington Post (paywall), researchers believe 80% of polar bear populations could die off if sea ice continues to disappear.

We know—because of such evidence—that the warming of our planet due to human causes is: shrinking the habitat of polar bears; threatening grape growing regions in France; making storms stronger; causing sea levels to rise by melting glaciers “past the point of no return”; and acidifying our oceans. All of these phenomena threaten to destroy not just the environment, but the economy, jobs, and well-being of those Americans that Donald Trump claims he alone knows how to defend and protect.

Someone tell the president. Please.

In the meantime, at least some lucky animals are enjoying the cold. They’re also lucky they can’t read tweets.

Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at

home our picks popular latest obsessions search