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Weather Versus Climate

By Rand Clifford

28 April, 2007
Countercurrents.org

(Part One of the series: Perspectives On Our Changing Climate)

In Eastern Washington we’re emerging from an old fashioned winter like we haven’t seen in years. Repeated blasts of arctic air huffed and puffed the local Letters-To-The-Editor page full of requests for Al Gore to send us some of that global warming. Editors frosted the confusion with titles such as "G-g-g-g-Global Warming?" , and, "Hey! Where’s The Heat?" Embarrassing harangues of people flaunting their ignorance marked every cold snap, ignorance of the difference between weather, and climate. And while temperatures sank around here like they’re supposed to, like they used to, the Northern Hemisphere just recorded its warmest winter on record.

We’ve increased atmospheric carbon dioxide so much so fast, like tossing a blanket on the globe, trapping more and more infrared radiation from flowing back into space. Fundamental science of this dynamic is very simple: extra blanket = warming. Weather is very simple: look outside. But Climate Change is a more accurate term for our dilemma, and climate is very complex. Weather is outside your window; climate covers the globe.

We all know what it’s like outside, just like most of us can spot a scientist. You know, they’re usually people with no idea what’s in style, tending to look around a lot, seeming to see a lot. They use big words, especially when there’s a group of them and they start talking so we can’t understand them. Complexity of modern science, as in modern medicine, demands specialization, giving us all kinds of scientists: geologists, chemists, cosmologists, entomologists, biologists, physicists, climatologists...then we get into the PhD’s, kind of a blanket to cover any ...ists that got left out—and that’s where there’s some big fast money right now! If you are a credentialed "scientist", FOSSIL FUEL has a job for you. Simply shine your credentials and publish an article about how what is happening is not really happening...$10,000.00 a pop, plus "expenses". Sure, this century has seen FOSSIL FUEL spend many millions spreading denial, paying "experts" to travel the country preaching doubt. And in 2001, Phillip Cooney became the White House Head of Environmental Policy, after six years of being in charge of confusing Americans about Climate Change for the American Petroleum Institute. A lobbyist and lawyer with zero scientific training, Cooney handled the administration’s disinformation and denial regarding Climate Change until leaked documents embarrassed him into resigning in 2005, and going to work for Exxon Mobil. However, this new campaign seems the most vulgar so far in shouting that Americans understand nothing of science. No wonder the difference between weather, and climate, lags in understanding. Science is subtle, often whispers; money shouts!

But Americans know that when they have an abscessed tooth they don’t go to a proctologist. Without so much disinformation/denial money pouring from FOSSIL FUEL, more Americans might realize that the best data on climate change comes from scientists who specialize in climate. Climatologists universally agree that what is happening to global climate is in fact really happening. And they know that the extra blanket we’ve thrown on the globe with our burning of fossil fuels is a primary cause. Never has it been so crucial that we learn to whom we should listen. For instance, what’s left of the messenger Al Gore, wrapped around all those bullet holes.

For anyone unsure of the meaning of ad hominem, dictionary definitions will include: an appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect; an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made. However, the treatment of Gore by our corporate media is the best definition of ad hominem I’ve ever seen. Editorial cartoons have been gushing ink over everything Gore, except the truth of his message, which is so clearly established in light of the attacks. Today our local editorial page showed a fat Gore seated before a Congressional committee and being asked why he wasn’t going after China and India because they are much bigger polluters than us. Gore replies that he doesn’t want to be president of China or India. Seated next to the questioner, Senator Clinton is drawing a caricature of "Fat Albert."

If Gore’s facts were wrong, they could be attacked; since they are true, Gore must be attacked. Perhaps one reason political cartoons have been especially relentless is because Americans seem to believe that something seen in the newspaper, or on television news—it must be true, there’s some kind of law! And cartoons, they’re just cartoons. Well, besides a few technicalities like libel considerations, there is no law. Any kind of bullshit goes, judgement of the consumer and reputation of the source the only de facto limitations. Back to that cartoon, the statement about China and India being much bigger polluters than us could just as easily sully an editorial column in the New York Times. Truth is the United States emits well over twice the greenhouse gasses of China and India put together. Their rate of increase may exceed ours because of their rapid economic growth, but they have a long way to go to catch us in actual levels. Editorial cartoons are extremely powerful; many readers of this particular Gore attack will surely walk away suddenly knowing that China and India are "...much bigger polluters than us!"

So I decided to do some street research. First I chose an upscale bar downtown, watering hole for many in the financial and legal industries. About 6:30 on a raw and gusty Wednesday evening, sunset around here now, I went into McMurthy’s. Two groomed men sitting together at the bar wore business suits, Caucasians around 40. I took a stool on their left and ordered a shot of Bushmills. It was halftime of the college basketball playoffs game the men were watching on the television set mounted high behind the bar. They both looked at me. And as though I might be some kind of scientist, I asked the closest one:

"So, what do you guys think of all this global warming stuff?"

Neither one flinched, but rather, both seemed to welcome my invitation to debate.

"Gore’s a loser" said the guy I’d asked.

The other one took a drink before smacking his lips, and saying, "He’s wacko...."

Seems these two were not novices, both having read Michael Crichton’s State of Fear. I began to hear about solid scientific evidence that parts of the world were actually cooling. Though I hadn’t read the book, I was familiar with its better blunders. So I tacitly conveyed having read State of Fear, cordially agreeing that in fact some parts of the globe were cooling, taking it even further by saying the science behind Climate Change assures us that especially Northern Europe will get much cooler as the Gulf Stream shuts down—something which has already begun. Fresh water from melting ice of Greenland is interrupting the thermohaline circulation which, in addition to distributing heat around the globe, makes northern Europe far warmer than other areas at comparable latitude. This took no shine from these men’s confidence, but an eagerness in their glancing eyes told me they were anxious for the television to rescue them. Not letting up, I mentioned that validity of the science in Crichton’s book must be measured by his description of the beginning of a hurricane, where he details a gigantic mass of high pressure slowly beginning to rotate. I pointed out that a hurricane is actually an area of low pressure that evolves from a trough, or tropical wave, to a topical depression. As the central pressure continues to drop, winds pick up and the disturbance becomes a tropical storm, then a hurricane. "In fact," I said, "among the lowest surface pressures ever recorded was in the eye of hurricane Wilma, a category 5 hurricane that followed hurricane Katrina by about six weeks. The lowness of pressure in the eye of a hurricane is a good gauge of the hurricane’s strength. When Crichton describes a gigantic mass of high pressure as the beginning of a hurricane, he could not be more wrong. So, again, the novel’s scientific validity must all be taken with that in mind."

I finished my drink.

The second half began with a spectacular two-handed reverse dunk. I said, "See you guys later," and in moments had walked into a very, very early-season thunderstorm. The lady standing beside me under McMurthy’s awning for shelter from the downpour held a stuffed bag from Macy’s in each hand. I looked her in the eyes. She shouted, "Crazy weather!"

In Part 2, True Costs of Fossil Fuels, enormous subsidies to fossil fuels, including the cost of invading and occupying Iraq, and environmental impacts.

Rand Clifford lives in Spokane, Washington, and welcomes comments at: randc@icehouse.net. His novels CASTLING and TIMING are published by StarChief Press: http://www.starchiefpress.com

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