Friday, June 13, 2008

Change in Terminology

Have you noticed the subtle shift in terms? The crisis is evolving. We don’t wail about “Global Warming” any more. Now, the appropriately artful expression is “Global Climate Change”! Get the distinction?

When we have a hot summer it is so easy for the cast of liberal characters, mostly from the California coast as in Streisand, Sheryl Crow, Fonda, etc, to complain that they were never this hot and sweaty (menopausal?) twenty years ago. But what to do when it is snowing in Boston on Memorial Day or blizzards are sweeping through the Dakotas and Minnesota as they were late this spring? Well, then you simply shift the terms so that you’ve got a universal concept that doesn’t require inexorable drift in only one direction. With “Climate Change” as the bogeyman rather than warming, you can now always be correct whatever the situation.

Many years ago when I first moved to Colorado I found that James Michener had written one of his weighty tomes on the state. Like all Michener books in his later years when he was coasting on the reputation made with reasonably sized books like The Drifters, Caravan, or Tales of the South Pacific, the author was churning out a series of thousand pagers on places around the world like Hawaii, Alaska, Poland, and of course, Colorado.

I’m certain that each was ghost-written by an army of interns, each responsible for two hundred pages of the dawn of creation or the ice age or the passing of the dinosaurs at that particular location. There was no possible way that one human being could churn out ten to twelve hundred pages a year, let alone handle the simple research. The books were formulaic, regular as Christmas, and usually at least a bit insightful on the region in question.

One section of Centennial, the Colorado book, covered the settlement of the Platte River valley from the Kansas/Nebraska border to the foot of the Flatirons. Farmers came and saw the bountiful river basin with abundant water and broad flat pastures that could be easily tilled and render grand harvests for the industrious. They came and homesteaded but then something strange happened. The river shrank and the land dried out as a series of dry summers and snow-less winters ensued. With no water, there were no crops and the land lay fallow. The farmers abandoned the land and moved further west.

The second wave came a decade or two later, and lo, the river once again ran through the valley and the fields were green. They stopped, they rebuilt, they farmed and they prospered…for about ten or fifteen years. Then the cycle repeated itself. Michener’s point, of course, was that the micro-climate of the Platter River basin was periodic. It ran on roughly a twenty-year cycle of boom and bust, wet and dry, hot and cold. Just like the entire world!

Twenty-five or thirty years ago we got some new weather terminology for North America. We learned about the impact of warm and cold Pacific Ocean currents on our continental weather patterns. There was something called El Nino, the little boy, that would show up and cause our weather to be wetter. It was remarkable. Scientists told us that we would have a wet year, and we did.

But, El Nino wasn’t always there; sometimes the phenomenon would be reversed. Then the ocean currents caused our weather to dry out for the year. They called it La Nina, the little girl. Boy, wet and cold. Girl, hot and dry. So, we reinforced what Michener had taught me about the cyclic nature of weather. We’ll have a period of several years of warming trend, then we’ll shift the trend direction and go with as much as a decade of cooling. Ain’t science amazing?

Try this for ninety days. I’ve been doing it for a year now. Check your local newspaper weather section. Somewhere buried in the statistics you will find the record high and record low for today’s date…and the year in which the record occurred. Logic would tell us that if global warming is really occurring and the planet has heated up significantly in the last twenty or thirty years, then the record highs should cluster at the more recent end of the dateline. Conversely, the record lows will be found back at the turn of the Nineteenth Century.

Happily, I’ve found that in north Texas, that isn’t remotely the case. Last week, for example four out of five days the record high was in 1909, 1911, 1911 and 1913. Over a longer sample period, the record highs occurred more often in the first half of the twentieth century than in the last fifty years. I’ll freely admit that it isn’t scientific, but when someone starts selling you “cap and trade” taxes as a solution to global warming ask them why they’ve got a sweater on.

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