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.”