Weird weather

A friend asked me the other day what I think about the “weird weather” we’ve been having.

The world has certainly been seeing a lot of the weird recently – unprecedented floods in Pakistan, Australia and Latin America, earthquakes in Japan, volcanic eruptions in Iceland and Chile, droughts in part of the U.S. and Africa, record-breaking temperatures for cold in the winter and hot in the summer.  What are we to make of it?

For decades, scientists have predicted that global warming would lead to more frequent extreme weather events like these.  So is our current weather a foretaste of weather patterns we’d better get used to as the climate gets warmer?  Or is this simply a bad run?

Unfortunately, we can’t know for sure yet.  The problem is that if we wait until we do know for sure, the climate will already be too warm for us to take any remedial action.

And let’s be honest.  Climate change is an extraordinarily complex process, and even now scientists can make only informed guesses.  Personally, I think one would be a fool to put ones money on the odds that the climate is not getting warmer.  I think the risks of waiting until we are sure are far too great to meddle with.

If global warming does occur – say the predicted increase of 4 degrees celsius – there will be some quite desirable outcomes.  But the negative outcomes will far outweigh the positive ones.  Sea levels will rise, coastal lands will disappear, great cities like New York and London and swathes of entire countries like Bangladesh may be threatened.  Food supplies and water supplies will be at a premium, leading to increases of disease, starvation, and war.           

I know this sounds like something out of the Apocalypse.  And I don’t think spreading fear is a particularly effective way to mobilize people to act.  Too often we respond with a case of ostrich-itis and put our heads in the sand.  But sometimes the challenge is to look at a problem head on.  Saying everything is fine when the tests suggest that there might be something seriously wrong does not return us to robust health.  And global warming won’t go away just because we don’t like what the scientists are saying.

Environmental degradation and global warming are huge and complex problems, and I’m not sure whether the human species will meet the challenge.  I think we are smart enough.  But I’m not sure we have learned how to cooperate well enough to solve these problems.

So what do I think of this weird weather?

I think it’s worth noticing.

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About Terry Sissons

Terry Sissons is the author of The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks, and this blog is a dialogue about the universe and what’s happened in the last 13 billions years.
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6 Responses to Weird weather

  1. Melinda says:

    How can we stop this?

    • Thank you for your incisive comment. You know, I’m sure, that you’re asking the 64 thousand dollar question: how can we stop this? The answer is obviously not simple, and it’s not a single answer. Governments must act, businesses must act, and we as individuals must act by supporting governments’ policies aimed toward reducing our carbon and methane emissions and by reducing our own energy and water use. On the optimistic side, I am sometimes encouraged by our human capacity for ingenuity. Some incredibly innovative and clever things, small and big, are being thought up by our fellow humans to reduce our energy use without dramatically reducing our standard of living.
      On my bad days, I fear we will not do enough, and that war, starvation, drought, and pandemics are going to be the ultimate result of our profligacy. That, of course, would greatly reduce our polluting. But at a terrible terrible price.
      My own philosophy is that I am doing whatever I can – not wasting water, turning off unused lights, insulating our house against heat loss. One person is not enough. But there are millions of us, and millions of people just might be enough.
      This is a long comment to your very short, but key question. I would like to hear your further thoughts.

  2. jake groves says:

    Here is my theory we as humans are causing the issue we as humans are too fueled with greed to do anythimng about it. We want hydro so we accept the nuclear power plants that fuel it we are too lazy to walk so we accept the cars we drive. We want things done yesterday so we strive to make thing faster hell I am typing this on my 300 dollar cel phone tell me 10 years ago I could do that I would say you are crazy. So my point is this until we all stop and take a break from our greed nothing will change that is our dooms day not because the myans made a prediction or because nostradomous said so because it is the truth we are greed and powerless to our own power.

    • I’m afraid I agree with you. This problem is not unsolvable, but it will take human action – courage, ingenuity, commitment, cooperation, and a willingness to change our life styles. Above all, it needs a recognition of our responsibility for what happens to this beautiful home that we have been given. Will we learn it in time? Perhaps the seriously bad weather we have been having all over the world will actually help us in the end. I hope so. Because I am sure that if we trash this planet, there is no other alternative where we could get to and survive before we are extinct as a species. And given what an incredible animal we are, that would be truly a profound loss.

      • jake groves says:

        Absolutely it would be horrible to extinct ourselves when we have the power to change that. However I think it will be a long time before humans take responsibility for our actions because of greed we are unwilling to give up what we have in order to make the changes needed. We would rather go to war with eachother instead of uniting as a species. Greed fuels this world here in north america in iran, iraq, afganistan, russia etc etc etc. Instead of accepting the reality that people are all different with different beliefs and different morals we want to change them and we think that blowing stuff up and killing eachother will do that. It has been time to unite for a long time now we just can’t see past ourselves to do that. No man woman or child is perfect and until the wolrd as a whole is willing to stand up and accept that we will forever be our own demise and our legacy as a race will be only that of destruction.

      • Of course I know what you mean when you say greed is motivating our use of fuel, and our failures both to tolerant others who are different from us, or to take responsibility for our planet home. Sometimes things look so bad that it take courage to sustain the hope that makes it possible for us to even try to do something about our situation.

        would add two caveats to greed as the fundamental cause of our self-seeking. It’s not just greed. It’s also ignorance, and part of that ignorance is simply built in to the human condition. We often don’t know enough. Do you or I, for instance, really know how to stop contributing to global warming without starving? For how many millions of people is that the case? I also think we are often dreadfully afraid of that ignorance, which is why we so often refuse to tolerate anyone who disagrees with us.

        I also think that greed has two sides to its coin. We are created as individuals with an innate drive to preserve our own lives. Greed, I think, is most often that deep love of life gotten out of control. But it is a well of energy which hopefully enough of us will channel into preserving not only our own life but those of the societies on which we depend to survive. We’re all in this together.

        Thank you for the dialogue. I hope you will continue to add your comments. Terry Sissons

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