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The real reason behind this year's warmer winter weather. (It’s not just global warming.)

It’s been a hot year — the hottest year on record, according to climate experts.

The real reason behind this year's warmer winter weather. (It’s not just global warming.)

I know I’m not the only one thinking this doesn't feel like normal winter weather.

I spent Christmas Day this year wearing shorts. Shorts! And when I was packing for the holidays, I didn’t even bother throwing a jacket into my suitcase because the forecast showed a full week of balmy days with highs in the 80s.

The records show it, too: It's been a hot winter.

In fact, it’s been a hot year — the hottest year on record, according to climate experts. That can be a little scary for those of us following the quick progress of climate change.


It’s pretty easy to feel like Jake Gyllenhaal in "The Day After Tomorrow" when you have a bigger risk of getting heatstroke than seeing snow in late December.

The good news, though, is that global warming isn’t solely responsible for the warm weather this month.

Climatologists say we’re in the middle of El Niño right now, which happens every few years. And this time around, it’s been particularly strong.

How does El Niño work? Every few years, the water in the Pacific Ocean gets a little warmer than usual during the winter. Greenhouse gases warm the Earth, oceans absorb that heat, and then El Niño drives up the temps a few extra degrees.

A summer beach day? Nope, just people enjoying the beach on Dec. 13, 2015, in Fairfield, Connecticut. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

That little change in temperature patterns can spiral into massive changes in weather around the world, making certain areas (like the northern U.S.) drier and warmer while other places get a lot more rainfall.

Climate change has played a role in making our weather more extreme, though.

Some climate scientists are saying that global warming has "supercharged" El Niño, making this year's weather patterns waaay more intense than they'd usually be.

So we're seeing summery days in the middle of the winter — and worse. Across the globe, there have also been droughts, flooding, hurricanes, and fires.

In short, El Niño is the reason behind most of these weird weather events. Global warming is making that weather more powerful and destructive.

So no, you don’t have to worry about never seeing a snowy Christmas ever again because El Niños come and go.

It was almost 70 degrees in New York City on Christmas Eve this year. Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images.

But unless we can rein in greenhouse gases, you should probably expect to see more erratic, extreme weather in the future, too. Here's to a northeastern winter full of mittens, scarves, hot cocoa ... and shorts.

Lainey and baby goat Annie. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse
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Oftentimes, the journey to our true calling is winding and unexpected. Take Lainey Morse, who went from office manager to creator of the viral trend, Goat Yoga, thanks to her natural affinity for goats and throwing parties.

Back in 2015, Lainey bought a farm in Oregon and got her first goats who she named Ansel and Adams. "Once I got them, I was obsessed," says Lainey. "It was hard to get me off the farm to go do anything else."

Right away, she noticed what a calming presence they had. "Even the way they chew their cud is relaxing to be around because it's very methodical," she says. Lainey was going through a divorce and dealing with a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis at the time, but even when things got particularly hard, the goats provided relief.

"I found it impossible to be stressed or depressed when I was with them."

She started inviting friends up to the farm for what she called "Goat Happy Hour." Soon, the word spread about Lainey's delightful, stress-relieving furry friends. At one point, she auctioned off a child's birthday party at her farm, and the mom asked if they could do yoga with the goats. And lo, the idea for goat yoga was born.

A baby goat on a yoga student. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse

Goat yoga went viral so much so that by fall of 2016, Lainey was able to quit her office manager job at a remodeling company to manage her burgeoning goat yoga business full-time. Now she has 10 locations nationwide.

Lainey handles the backend management for all of her locations, and loves that side of the business too, even though it's less goat-related. "I still have my own personal Goat Happy Hour every single day so I still get to spend a lot of time with my goats," says Lainey. "I get the best of both worlds."

Lainey with her goat Fabio. Photo courtesy of Lainey Morse

Since COVID-19 hit, her locations have had to close temporarily. She hopes her yoga locations will be able to resume classes in the spring when the vaccine is more widely available. "I think people will need goat yoga more than ever before, because everyone has been through so much stress in 2020," says Lainey.

Major life changes like Lainey's can come around for any number of reasons. Even if they seem out of left field to some, it doesn't mean they're not the right moves for you. The new FOX series "Call Me Kat", which premieres Sunday, January 3rd after NFL and will continue on Thursday nights beginning January 7th, exemplifies that. The show is centered around Kat, a 39-year old single woman played by Mayim Bialik, who quit her math professor job and spent her life's savings to pursue her dreams to open a Cat Café in Louisville, Kentucky.

Jeff Harry started making similar moves when he was just 10-years-old, and kept making them throughout his life. After seeing the movie "Big,"Jeff knew he wanted to play with toys for a living, so he started writing toy companies asking for next steps. He finally got a response when he was a sophomore in high school — the company told him he needed to become a mechanical engineer first.

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While many of us know Captain America from the current Marvel Cinematic Universe movies starring Chris Evans, the superhero character has been an iconic comic book character for 79 years.

A superhero with the name "Captain America" who wears a red, white, and blue uniform and fights for freedom naturally invokes a sense of patriotism. However, not everyone who considers themselves a "patriot" can truly claim the title.

The son of one of Captain America's co-creators has some harsh words for those who have co-opted Captain America symbolism in their support of Donald Trump and the storming of the Capitol by his followers. Neal Kirby, the son of Jack Kirby, who created the character with Joe Simon in 1941, aimed his message directly at the rioters.

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Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
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Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

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ZACHOR Foundation

"What's 'the Holocaust'?" my 11-year-old son asks me. I take a deep breath as I gauge how much to tell him. He's old enough to understand that prejudice can lead to hatred, but I can't help but feel he's too young to hear about the full spectrum of human horror that hatred can lead to.

I wrestle with that thought, considering the conversation I recently had with Ben Lesser, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor who was just a little younger than my son when he witnessed his first Nazi atrocity.

It was September of 1939 and the Blitzkrieg occupation of Poland had just begun. Ben, his parents, and his siblings were awakened in their Krakow apartment by Nazi soldiers who pistol-whipped them out of bed and ransacked their home. As the men with the shiny black boots filled burlap sacks with the Jewish family's valuables, a scream came from the apartment across the hall. Ben and his sister ran toward the cry.

They found a Nazi swinging their neighbors' baby upside down by its legs, demanding that the baby's mother make it stop crying. As the parents screamed, "My baby! My baby!" the Nazi smirked—then swung the baby's head full force into the door frame, killing it instantly.

This story and others like it feel too terrible to tell my young son, too out of context from his life of relative safety and security. And yet Ben Lesser lived it at my son's age. And it was too terrible—for anyone, much less a 10-year-old. And it was also completely out of context from the life of relative safety and security Ben and his family had known before the Nazi tanks rolled in.

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Katie Schieffer is a mom of a 9-year-old who was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes after spending some time in the ICU. Diabetes is a nuisance of a disease on its own, requiring blood sugar checks and injections of insulin several times a day. It can also be expensive to maintain—especially as the cost of insulin (which is actually quite inexpensive to make) has risen exponentially.

Schieffer shared an emotional video on TikTok after she'd gone to the pharmacy to pick up her son's insulin and was smacked with a bill for $1000. "I couldn't pay for it," she says through tears in the video. "I now have to go in and tell my 9-year-old son I couldn't pay for it."

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