Weather’s not as bad as it seems
To watch the almost continuous "Extreme Weather" reports on TV news programs or listen to the wailing of such politically disparate yet disturbingly simpatico groups as "The Al Gore Planet is in Chaos Coalition" and "The Religious Right End of the World is Nigh Alliance," you'd think that the globe is experiencing the worst weather since the Triassic Period.
There do seem to be a heck of a lot more tornadoes, hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons, droughts, floods, heat waves and snowstorms than anyone can remember. And while volcanic eruptions, wildfires and earthquakes don't technically come under the heading of "weather," there seem to be a lot more of those, too.
Various groups embrace the idea that the world is in the midst of a dire climatic upheaval, but for different reasons. Environmentalists say the weird weather is a sign that humans need to save the world, not pollute it. Religious zealots say it's a sign that the apocalypse is upon us and true believers will soon go to paradise. Television networks see it as a great way to raise ad sales by scaring the bejesus out of viewers.
It doesn't seem to dawn on any of these guys that the reason it seems like there's so much bad weather is that technology has made bad weather reporting easier. There were just as many tornados in the United States in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries as there are today, it's just that they weren't reported as much. Or at all.
Even 50 years ago we didn't hear about tornados unless they carried away a house with a little girl and her dog in it and deposited them in Munchkinland. In the early 20th century, when a tornado approached, a farm family simply went into their tornado bunker and sat it out. They didn't call CNN or post video of the twister on YouTube, because they couldn't.
One of my favorite writers, Bill Bryson, points out in his best-selling book, "A Short History of Nearly Everything" that the weather these days actually is better than it's been throughout most of the Earth's history. He surprisingly reports that, despite dire warnings of global warming, "The fact is, we are still very much in an ice age: It's just a somewhat shrunken one." This ice age started 40 million years ago and "has ranged from murderously bad to not bad at all," Bryson says.
"It is mildly unnerving to reflect that the whole of meaningful human history has taken place within an atypical patch of fair weather," he says.
So, not only is the Earth not moving inevitably toward global warming, Bryson says there's a good chance it will dramatically cool off again during this current ice age, something it's done probably 17 times in the past 2.5 million years.
Of course, CNN and FOX -- or humans, for that matter -- weren't around back then to worry that the increasing cold weather -- or the periods of warming weather in between -- were caused by man or signaled Biblical end times. And somehow, the Earth did OK anyway.
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