From all appearances so far, winter is not going to come to Wisconsin this year. If it does, it's going to be very late indeed, because it already is. We've had one minor snow and a few cold days so far, and this morning it's like a pleasant early Spring day.
I think I'm now officially freaked out by this freaky non-winter. It reminds me of something the poet Richard Hugo once said about flying. He turned to the fellow next to him as they were strapping themselves into their seats on an airline flight, and remarked that there was something he didn't like about flying. "Yes," the other passenger replied, "it's not natural." A non-winter in Wisconsin in the wintertime just doesn't seem...natural.
Of course, this weather could be entirely unrelated to the climate trends that are melting mountain snowcaps and the icecaps of the polar regions—it could be a perfectly normal winter that would have happened exactly the same way had the entire human population of Earth consisted of 20,000 hominids dressed in animal skins, hunting with spears for a living. There's no saying.
I've got several relatives who are "global warming deniers." Personally, I've come to a policy regarding them: complete tolerance and total understanding. Anyone who wants to deny global warming has my full and complete blessing. I understand totally.
Not long ago I tried to read a book called Eaarth by Bill McKibben. Granted, McKibben is one of the most extreme of the climate change alarmists—on the opposite end of the spectrum from blustery radio demagogues and televangelists who says ridiculous things like "and I quote" when relaying what they claim God told them the last time they talked. But still, I had to stop reading Eaarth. It's too terrifying. Scariest book I ever picked up.
It's so scary, in fact, that anybody who wants to deny what McKibben says is on the way is fine by me, brother. Power to 'em. I'll say the same thing to them I said to my global-warming-denier nephew: I sincerely hope they are right. I don't think they are, but I sure do hope they are.
Maybe I should have kept reading. According to the reviews, McKibben's book takes an optimistic turn in its second half, when he outlines how we can adapt and adjust to a changing "Eaarth" (it's his term for the new planet that only resembles the old Earth but is already permanently altered). Whatever.
One comfort I have about this is that human beings have had apocalyptic fears in every age. People in medieval times (and the medieval-minded even now) fear religious apocalypse; in the 1950s the pessimists foresaw nuclear armaggedon; so now it's plantary catastrophe caused by climate change that some think is going to bring on the end. Nothing's new.
It puts me in mind of reading big treasuries of old New Yorker cartoons when I was a kid at my grandmother's house. One of the commonplaces of those cartoons were long-haired, bearded self-proclaimed prophets in robes standing on street corners holding signs on sticks that said "The World is Coming to an End." That made me reflect, even as a child, that everyone who ever said such a thing is of course correct. Because—whether you believe we simply cease to exist or that death is merely a departure on a further voyage to heaven or hell or wherever—the world does end for us all, after our alotment of years is up. So maybe apocalyptic fears are just another expression of the natural fear of death that's an indivisible part of every conscious life.
Another thing strikes me as curious. All of my life I've been reading the phrase "delicate balance" applied to the planet's ecology. A stone cliché, it seems to me, if ever there was one. So if we're all so convinced that Earth exists in a delicate balance, why would we be so ruthless and heavy-handed in destroying that balance, and why wouldn't we do more to prepare for changes that even the most optimistic among us concede are occurring? Do we just think we'll have to deal with the upheavals when they get here, and that preparation is pointless?
I don't understand that, but then I think I understand our species as a whole. We're not preparers—we're reactors. We deal with problems once they arise. It's no fun to take preventative measures. A hero can't "save the Earth" unless the Earth is clearly threatened.
I remember hearing the term "suicide prevention" with a friend who argued that there could be no such thing. Because, he said, if you prevent it, how do you know it was going to happen? The only thing that proves it would have been a suicide is if it happens, and by then, by definition, it's too late to prevent. So "suicide prevention," according to him, is a permanent, unsolvable conundrum, akin to a nonsense phrase.
Maybe he's right. But it seemed to me like a good thing to work toward anyway (we were both high school teachers at the time).
Meanwhile, human nature being what it is, most people around here seem to be smiling about the weather. Like it's a good thing. Unlike me.
Here's hoping—fervently—that the global warming deniers are 100% correct. And if they're not, let's hope that not too many among us consider suicide prevention a pointless concept.
P.S. What, me worry? I'm off to watch football.
Photo: Just before dawn last Thursday. Panasonic GF1 and 20mm ƒ/1.7.
"Open Mike" is a series of warming off-topic editorial posts by Yr. Hmbl. Ed. that come around most every Sunday.
ADDENDUM: I should probably add that pretty much everybody is in agreement that single specific weather events or effects should not be ascribed to overall trends. It's true that this might just be a mild winter. (It's also true that last year's more severe winter didn't mean that global warming isn't happening.)
NOTE (Monday 9 a.m.): I tried to close the comments to this post last night, but unfortunately I must have made an administrative mistake and inadvertently opened them again. I have a basic internal guideline that I close the comments after I've had to disallow three—it seems unfair to those whose comments have been quashed to allow the discussion to continue, often in the direction they didn't want it to go. They feel singled out for censorship, perhaps justifiably so. By closing the comments altogether, at least everybody is censored equally. In any event, the comments to this post are now closed, and I apologize to anyone who wrote any comment (there were several inoffensive ones) between the time I originally meant to close the comments and now. I have not judged any of those on their merits but simply didn't publish any of them.
In my judgement, what characterizes a forum-style exchange is when commenters stop responding to the original post and start responding directly to each other, especially when they start casting aspersions on each other's motives or intelligence and so forth. The point I close things down (which only happens rarely) is when this tendency seems to be becoming general. I know there are those who want to hold that kind of discussion, but I don't run a forum here.
My apologies again for my mistake last night.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Kevin Shoenmakers: "On climate change, I can recommend NYT columnist Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How It Can Renew America. One of the best arguments he has in arguing the U.S. (and everyone else) needs to Green up, is because, climate change or no climate change, when all our fossil fuels have been used up/have become too expensive, wind and solar is all we have left. Now, we wouldn't want the Chinese (or the Germans, or the Danes) to beat us at that game, would we? This argument is, I hope, compelling to deniers as well, which makes it so powerful."
Featured Comment by MarkB: "'Nihil sub sole novum'—I remember and ponder this phrase (from my early Latin classes) whenever something seems scary or threatening, and is out of my direct control. It also helps put political attack ads in their proper disregard. ;-) ." [For those few of you who don't speak Latin, that's from Ecclesiastes 1:10—the Vulgate version, from the original Hebrew: "Nothing new under the sun." —Ed.]
Featured Comment by Steven Ralser: "You should read Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. It shows how a relative few (often the same few) are influencing debate on a variety of topics including that smoking is good for you, second smoke is not harmful, climate change is false, etc. It's a very inciteful [sic] read. I'm sending a copy to my brother in Australia who is a climate change denier."
Featured Comment by Bruce Robbins: "I remain unconvinced one way or another about whether or not man-made CO2 has caused the small global temperature rise we've seen. However, what I do know is that there is no empirical evidence to support AGW [the A stands for anthropogenic—i.e., man-made. —Ed.]. The 'warmist' camp relies entirely on computer model projections to support its hypothesis but the models have been shown to be wrong on so many occasions that I don't think we should be basing energy policy on them. The reason the debate rages so fiercely between warmists and sceptics is precisely because neither side can prove its case, despite claims to the contrary. As soon as it becomes provable one way or the other the debate will end."
Featured Comment by Geoff Wittig: "Global warming, or anthropogenic climate change, is different from all other science-related controversies. Scientists, by and large, are a very cautious and conservative lot. (Conservative in the philosophical sense, not the political.) We tend to weigh evidence carefully and at great length, and become concerned only when the weight of evidence is so overwhelming that it is beyond refutation. Consequently, scientists tend to lag well behind popular opinion and culture when it comes to being alarmed. Global warming is the exception that proves the rule. Climate scientists are basically terrified by what they're seeing in the data. There is no 'controversy'; at least 97% of active climatologists are in agreement that the earth is experiencing basically unprecedented warming, and nearly as large a majority concur that human activity is the main factor. And they are far more worried about what's coming than our political leaders. The disconnect is mind-boggling. A century hence, our descendants are likely to regard global warming denialism like we currently see phrenology, or the acceptance of slavery. But the consequences of this willful ignorance are likely to be far more dire."
Featured Comment by Claire: "I am a winter lover...and it seems to me that winter is not as snowy as before. Might be a case of false childhood memories (in a positive way...or, is it?) Speaking of snow and ice and winter and global warming and all, I've recently discovered the photography of Ragnar Axelsson. What a treat! Well...at least, for me. So, if you want to see the snow and its people, have a look at his website."
Mike replies: Always happy to point to Ragnar's website. I've visited a number of times and enjoy it every time.