Man and Weather

Cold weather seems to have followed us south. I wrote last week of the uncomfortably, for us, weather over the Christmas holidays in Pittsburgh. Blowing snow, cold and so forth. Snow’s not coming here (it has snowed here, by the way), but cold is. Of course, that’s relative to what we expect here and even at that cold and hot are both relative to expectations or experience. Differentials are what counts. A 20 or 30 degree drop or increase in temperature is noticeable. So, we are going to be cold for a couple of days.

Elsewhere in the country, there’s talk and even the reality of record lows. That is, a record for the past 100 years which is a blink of an eye, or less, in the world’s weather history. However, it makes good newspaper copy and television entertainment all sufficiently hyped for the scare factor: opportunity for chasing people indoors, canceling schools, meetings, social events, but not football ( I hope); or, opportunity to preach to the know-nothings of today’s culture who don’t know enough to come in from the cold, or to put hats and gloves on and so forth. Pundits and government watchers can pontificate for a few days and on-the-scene reporters can bravely tell us stories of woe and even heroism, and, of course tragedy. This is all in the context of a modern society in which the vast majority of us are in no danger of truly suffering anything.

It ain’t like the old days and I don’t mean my old days. Read the accounts of the settlers, rural farmers, or explorers and trappers of the last two or three centuries. Now those are stories. In the meanwhile, this is all very entertaining, even exciting, and, as I wrote before, just a matter of experiencing the relative differences that affect our daily living. After that, we’re left with the long term effects. And, that, at last, gets us to global warming, or climate change.

Is it related? Of course, it is. It is weather which is constant and constantly changing and adapting. But, does it have anything to do with warming or cooling? Not really. It’s just a snapshot. Even one or two snapshots. This particular snapshot appears to be affecting North America and places like Murmansk, Russia. Top of the world stuff. Europe and Asia, at least the central and southern parts aren’t experiencing excessive cold periods. Scotland has rain and floods.

Global warming acclaimers suggest it is part of the extreme patterns they have been predicting (like non-existent hurricanes); deniers claim this is the start of a new ice age. Consensus science does seem a bit confused these days. I’ve had a hard time pinning down what the global temperatures really are: flat for 10 or more years, still climbing gradually, or slightly falling. Arctic ice has thinned, but is it still thinning? Antarctica ice appears to be thickening, at least enough to trap a few ships.

I don’t buy many of the arguments on either of the two sides believing instead that weather is weather and that it changes and does affect various parts of the globe from time to time (ice ages and warming periods). Science changes, too. Models are models – garbage in, garbage out. Scientific studies are always subject to hypothesis driven research that get the rests we search for. This is addressed in a book I am reading about the effects of diet on health. The author, a science writer, points out: “it (is) effectively impossible to challenge the underlying science once it is invoked to defend a particular hypothesis, one that is said to benefit the public health….As the evidence accumulates, it may cease to support the hypothesis, but altering the conventional wisdom by then can be exceedingly difficult.” He goes on for two full pages to explore that idea. The same warning goes for climate science.

At any rate, I’m not very concerned about warming trends. They are better than cooling trends. We might worry about high water, but think about high ice. Warmer climates create more opportunity for agriculture, and a more hospitable climate overall than cold. Moreover, I believe that Earth, as the human body, tries to stay in balance when afflicted with foreign, outside influences in a process called homeostasis. Bad things can happen, but it takes a long time. The human body lasts a maximum of 100 years or so. The Earth has been around for 4 billion years or so according to the latest scientific measurements. Internally and externally it is a dynamic ball changing temperature and shape and pimpling up with all sorts disfiguring facets. It takes a long time, but will do what it does regardless of what we do to it.

We are largely insignificant in that relationship. As one writer put it, through a cockroach character called Archy: “man thinks he amounts to a great deal, but to a flea or mosquito he is merely something good to eat.”

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