Little did I know, as I wrote my article in January about the desire for snow, that winter hadn’t truly passed us over this year. It was just delayed. And, two weeks after the last Zephyr went up, down came the snow. Over two feet fell around our house over the course of a week. Frigid temperatures kept us inside for another week; then came the rain. And more cold temperatures. Just a week or so ago, I was beginning to think perhaps Spring was arriving. The forsythia in the backyard had sprouted buds and looked ready to bloom. Temperatures finally warmed up. And then, out of nowhere, more freezing cold. More snow. As I write this month, one week before the start of April, the high temperature is 36 degrees.
So much for global warming, right?
Or that’s the joke I keep hearing lately. I laugh along, because it does seem funny how weather never quite fits our expectations, but there’s a dangerous core inside that joke. Already suspicious of scientists and academics, Midwesterners love any excuse to show that the city-folk don’t know what they’re talking about, and, to a skeptic, this sudden sweeping cold seems like a blatant refutation of climate change.
Which is why human beings will never truly do anything to stop the climate from changing. We operate, day to day, on our experience. Anecdotal evidence trumps statistics every time. To see what I mean, just try to convince someone that welfare fraud is actually extremely rare. Every person has met, or heard of, one lazy person who received unnecessary benefits, and so, to the human mind, those statistics can’t be right. The phrase “Global Warming” sounds to us like every day should be warmer than average. So when we experience days that are colder than average, that seems like a good enough reason to doubt global warming exists. The fact that, statistically, last year was the warmest year on record just isn’t enough to convince someone that global warming is real—not if they’re shoveling piles of snow off their car today.
One argument I’ve heard a few times from climate change deniers: scientists always believe they are absolutely right until they are absolutely proven wrong. For example, before the advent of “germ theory,” or the knowledge that small organisms can transmit diseases from person to person, most scientists believed that disease spread through poisonous air, or miasma. This belief was held as strongly then as the belief in germs is held now. So who’s to say that climate change isn’t this generation’s miasma?
It’s absolutely possible that future generations will look back on climate change theory and conclude that we were idiots. If history can teach us one lesson, it is that we are often wrong. Humans are always operating on limited information. We might be wrong about Climate Change. We also might be proven wrong about Germ Theory, but until then , I’m going to keep washing my hands after the bathroom and taking antibiotics for infection. It seems to me that, if we are proved wrong about Climate Change, it will likely be as to the causes or else the precise effects of a changing climate. I doubt that we will be proven wrong as to the existence of climate change altogether. Just as earlier scientists were wrong about the precise cause of epidemic diseases, but correct in attributing disease to the environment around them and not to, say, a vengeful God. The change in terminology alone, from “Global Warming” to the more correct “Climate Change” suggests a continuing evolution of thought, as our knowledge of our environment grows.
And, from what I know of the current scientific thinking, these record snows fit the model just as well as last summer’s record heat. Every year more evidence stacks up in favor of the position that our world is changing, and that it’s our negative influence that has changed it. So I can laugh along with my neighbors. “Global warming, right?” As I push snow off my car. It’s very tempting to blame divine retribution for such a wet, muddy mess. But the record-breaking snowstorms and the longer tornado seasons and the blistering summers are enough to frighten me about what the future is bringing; so, until I’m proven wrong, I’ll look to the culprit closer to home.
Tonya Stiles is Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.
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