Sunday, March 22, 2015

Let's Talk about the Weather

Winter has come and gone.  But for those of us who live in the Washington, D.C. area, winter weather hasn’t exactly left with it.  Since the beginning of February, the weather in DC has been insanely and consistently cold, and the end is not in sight.  The low temperatures for five of the next seven days are supposed to be at the freezing point or below.  Snow showers are even expected for the final weekend of March, which is only one week before the average peak bloom date for the Cherry Blossoms.   I can’t recall the last winter that has ended as frigidly as this one.

And yet, according to a website maintained by the National Climatic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “the combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for February 2015 was the second highest for February in the 136-year period of record.”  That’s right – despite the great monthly freeze in places like DC, Baltimore, New York and Boston, our planet as a whole continues to heat up at record or near-record levels.

To me, one of the great tragedies of this past 20 years is that Al Gore popularized the term “Global Warming.”   Scientists can talk all they want to about that phenomenon, but when you go through what we’ve been dealing with here in the east coast of America, it rings pretty hollow.  During any given winter, one part of the globe may be experiencing a comparative heat wave, whereas another may be buried in record snowfalls.  If you’re in the middle of a great, prolonged frost, the words “Global Warming” sound like a punch line.   Clearly, “the globe” isn’t getting warmer this winter – at least not the WHOLE globe. So for those who would rather not believe that we need to reduce our carbon footprint, “global warming” may come across as more of a gimmick than a reality.

The truth, however, is that it’s very real.  The NOAA data add further confirmation of that fact.   In the aggregate, our planet is inexorably getting warmer … more polar ice is melting … and we’re coming ever closer to the point where millions of lives can be at risk in places like the more arid parts of Africa.   The fault here doesn’t lie in the Chicken Little-scientists who are sounding the alarms – it’s the term “Global Warming” itself.  At best, the term is ambiguous.  At worst, it’s an affront to what our senses may tell us whenever we open our front doors.  Blow the term up, I say, even if it is – in a very profound sense – absolutely true.

Sometimes, how an idea is marketed is more important than the idea’s validity.   In this case, as we have seen, we have a term that often doesn’t pass the marketing laugh test, but we also have another term that seems never to fail us.  That term is “Climate Change.”  It incorporates the gradual increase in average worldwide temperatures, as well as many other phenomena.  These include rising sea levels, massive ice melting, increased droughts and greater storm intensity.   The more types of climate change we think about, the more obvious it is that Mother Earth is in danger.   But the best thing about that term from the standpoint of marketing is that it always rings true.  Even when your local weather is not especially exciting, it never takes long any more to remember the last time your weather was crazy cold, crazy hot, crazy stormy … or somehow more “extreme” than what you remembered from childhood.

There really can be no controversy -- “climate change” is real and it’s multifaceted.  So the next time you find yourself wanting to mention “global warming,” resist the tendency and talk about climate change instead.  You might even work in a reference to a recent cyclone or hurricane.  If someone wants to argue with you, you might want to put them in touch with the Flat Earth Society.  I’m not sure I know of another organization where he or she could feel at home.

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