Global environmental challenges
But we need the cold
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:
As 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.
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.