But we need the cold

March 10, 2008

Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University who will be a regular guest blogger under the title “Exhausted Earth”. Reuters is not responsible for the content– the views expressed are theauthor’s alone.This is hisfirstblog:

snow.jpgAs the Northern Hemisphere begins to exit the 2008 winter season, I have found myself once again witnessing a well-known social phenomenon relating to weatherthat I find discouraging as I work on the issue of global warming.

It is the apparent social etiquette that assumes out loud that nobody wants very cold weather and would wish it away if they could. In my hometown of New York City, I encounter it on almost any given day — riding in the elevator of my building with my neighbors, on television fromthe weather reporter, in wintertime travel ads to southern destinations.

Some car advertisements play into this sentiment by portraying how their rugged vehicles effortlessly shield us from even the toughest winter weather, and so on.

As a climate and atmospheric scientist, what bothers me about the ‘hate the cold club’ is that it underscores how little appreciated are the essential, healthful and even life-supporting services of cold weather.

Think of how clean our air is in winter — we don’t get bad ozone and smog days then. Think of how our drinking water reservoirs are cleansed as organic production stops in the winter. Think of how warm weather pests and disease vectors like mosquitoes and ticks are held in check. Think of how indigenous fauna and flora that bond us to our home regions depend on the cycles of winter, as well as the summer.

Most of all, think about how cold temperatures are literally locking up water molecules within the great ice sheets like Greenland and preventing them from running into the seas and inundating forever the world’s coastlines.A worker clears snow in Central Park in New York, Feb. 22, 2008

So a couple of years ago I launched a personal mini-campaign to start vocalizing my support for coldweather, whenever I heard the standard refrain. If someone in an elevator said “It’s horrible outside”, I would counter with something like “I find it invigorating…” or “I love the winter!” or “I much prefer this to heatwaves in the summer…”

Today I ruefully report that my campaign has only discouraged me further as the reactions have always been negative: strange looks, smirks, shrugs or close-to-angry replies like “Not me!”

Recently a store owner looked at me in some disbelief and asked: “Where were you born?” as if the only plausible explanation could be that I am from Northern Canada or something. When I replied: “Around here, I’m a climate scientist…” she just looked confused. I’ve almost decided to stop my campaign.

Is this a more American phenomenon? Is it playing a role in the sluggish response to global warming? Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t implicitly drive this simplistic view of climate into the heads of our children?

After all, people don’t like rainy days either but if you say to them “But we need the rain”, they will always agree.


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Here in Germany I hear a lot of people say they would want to have a real winter again. I’m from the opposite front though. Your favouring of winter is reasonable, but it won’t make me love cold weather. There is a difference between reason and love.

Posted by Johan Steunenberg | Report as abusive

I can’t believe I have found a like minded soul here in the Big Apple. I have been a firm supporter and lover of the Fall and Winter for as far back as I can remember. Each time someone makes a negative comment about the cold, snow, or rain, I always, as a way of life, counter their disgust with positive, refreshing remarks about the delight of cold weather, and the wonderful greyness of rainy days when color is at it’s most intense and beautiful. I am an artist, having studied here in Gotham @ Columbia, and shall go on lauding the beauty of winter and rain, and how refreshing and revitalizing it all is. Not to mention the delight of coming into a nice warm environment in contrast to the wonderful raw elements out there. Thank you Stuart for being a kindred soul. Not to mention that exaggeratedly warm days are only a reflection that something has gone seriously wrong on this sensitive earth we inhabit.

Posted by THEA BASS | Report as abusive

instead of trying to manipulate/experiment on people by making strange, unbacked assertions like “I like cold weather”, why don’t you just tell them what you just told us: that cold weather kills diseases, cleans the air and water, and keeps our coastal cities from being flooded. You will convince a lot more people with the truth than with manipulation.

Posted by Jason | Report as abusive