Thursday, June 2, 2011

Weather vs. Climate--and are we Screwing Up the Latter?

It's not supposed to look like the photo to the left in the San Francisco Bay Area at 6:41 a.m. on June 2. No, by now the green hills are dried to gold, the sky is clear and blue, and the thermometer is routinely hitting 80 degrees. But today, I'm taking my umbrella and wearing a long-sleeved shirt and coat. I am wondering if we're getting Seattle's weather by mistake.

Weather vs. Climate. What's the difference? And is climate change upon us, as scientists have predicted for decades? Kinda of looks like it to me.

Weather is what the guy on the TV news talks about before the sports updates. It's about whether you should cancel that outdoor party or wear your raincoat. It's always changing, is only somewhat predictable, and is a great thing to discuss at a party where you don't know anyone.

Climate, however, is more about mean temperatures and average rainfall. It affects which crops will grow, if the riverbank will hold the runoff, the breeding cycle of insects, and, indirectly, the livelihood of millions of people. We've seen extreme weather incidents recently--the tornados that ripped apart Joplin, MO, now flooding in South Dakota. Record temperatures in Southern California. Today we hear about tornados in Massachusetts! The list goes on and on. Is this related to climate change?

The science of climate change seems to boil down to more junk in the air causing the earth to retain more heat, which leads to rising global temperatures affecting the distribution of water on the planet. Too much rain here (floods), too little (draught), and the movement of air from these disruptions causing friction, leading to tornados. Melting polar ice leads to higher water levels in coastal regions.

I don't profess to understanding it, but it appears that we are moving from ignorance to disbelief to now a growing general concensus that something is amiss. We are starting to talk about handling the effects of climate change and not just about preventing it. It looks like we can't prevent it.

So, what do you do? Apparently, replacing your SUV with a Prius isn't enough. We need to understand the whole picture, and then have our governments "help" us do what we need to do to cope. According to the June 6, 2011 issue of Newsweek ("Weather Panic"), we are woefully unprepared. It is one thing we all can agree on--a world problem. Maybe we don't need aliens to land to become unified after all.

Here's where I go for a daily dose of information, but there's plenty if you go looking for it.


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