OK. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Or, in this case, the penguin. If, as 97 percent of scientists have concluded, the Earth is warming because of humans’ fossil-fuel emissions, why did we just experience two weeks of frigid Arctic air? Maybe this global warming thing is just a hoax after all.

There’s no question it was cold. Very, very, very cold. And then, last Thursday, a “bomb cyclone” hit the East Coast with high winds, snow and coastal flooding. In Massachusetts, a 3-foot storm surge topped an astronomical high tide, pounding coastal cities and towns. Ipswich closed parts of Jeffreys Neck, Little Neck, Town Farm and Argilla roads, and Newbury closed the road to Plum Island, stranding residents and impeding emergency access. The Gloucester High School parking lot, filled with cars, transformed into a 4-foot-deep frigid sea. In Boston, seawater poured down the stairs and onto the tracks of the T’s Aquarium Station as chunks of ice floated down Atlantic Avenue and a dumpster bobbled alongside Long Wharf.

That same day, thermometers in Juneau, Alaska registered a balmy high of 42, low of 40, and the whole Western part of the country was hotter and drier than usual. What’s up? Has the climate gone mad? Well, yes. That’s why they call it climate change and not just global warming. Some people refer to what’s happening as global weirding.

Scientists have long predicted that climate change would result in increasingly erratic and more intense storms, droughts, floods, cold and heat waves, disrupting the relative stability of the past 12,000 or so years, the Holocene epoch. Geologists are now proposing a new epoch called the Anthropocene, or human era, because our actions – mainly the extraction and burning of fossil fuels and destruction of forests – are powerful enough to destabilize planetary systems.

According to Scientific American magazine, “Climate change is warming the Arctic more than twice as fast as anywhere else on the planet, melting sea ice that for millennia has acted like a blanket on top of the ocean, protecting the water from incoming solar energy and atmospheric heat. As that frozen coating disappears, its white surface is no longer there to reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere — so the ocean absorbs much more solar energy, going from receiving no heat from the sun to receiving the sun’s full heat. The disappearance of that blanket disturbs the whole Arctic system.”

Adds the New York Times: “Warming is weakening the jet stream, which ordinarily acts like a giant lasso, corralling cold air around the pole” – known as the Polar Vortex. A recent study analyzing four decades of climate data concluded that the weakened Polar Vortex “allows cold air to escape the Arctic and move to lower latitudes.”

So the Arctic temperatures we experienced during the winters of 2009-10, 2014-15 and now 2017-18 are signs of global warming, not the contrary.

Last week’s “bomb cyclone” resulted from south-moving Arctic air meeting north-moving warm, moisture-laden air from the Caribbean. This week’s weather is unseasonably warm. Global weirding is our new reality.

While we still rely on fossil fuels for now, we need to understand that in order to avoid the worst future scenarios of climate change – famine, unbearable heat waves, sea levels swamping coastal cities, leading to mass migrations – by 2050 we must be using no fossil fuels. Zero. Getting from here to there requires a Moonshot commitment to clean energy innovation and to energy conservation and efficiency, with aggressive milestones along the way.

We just got another wake up call from Mother Nature in those visits from the Polar Votex. How many more will it take before we rouse ourselves from our sleep?

Ipswich resident Charlotte Kahn is a retired reseacher/writer.