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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Whither Weather

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Jane Holtz Kay says, with temperature fluctuations caused by global climate change and high-tech meteorological forecasts, weather isn't what it used to be.


ROSS: And now, this weather report from Marrakech. You can expect more hurricanes, droughts, and floods if the planet continues to warm. That's the message delivered by leaders of some of the world's top insurance firms to delegates at the Climate Change Conference. Insurance executives say they've had to pay out huge sums of cash in recent years because of damage caused by extreme weather events. It's making commentator Jane Holtz Kay think weather just ain't what it used to be.

HOLTZ KAY: "Weather makes us dirty weeds," says a friend. "I love the heat," she says; "the cold as much." And so do I. I am a partisan of the cruel climate that defines the fiber of New England. Weather hardiness has enabled us to spawn a culture, to forage a field, to live in any place and climate. New England weather gives us the twists of temperature that make a four-season society. Listening to Dallas folks bewail the heat and scamper underground on days when a simple fan would cool the New Englander, I dote on the climate diversity that makes us strong. We alpha dogs of weather laugh at Washingtonians stuck in a scant inch of snow as we go about our ice fishing in near zero weather. We empty out of our subways for a Red Sox game, traipsing confidently through a downpour that will surely bring out the tarpaulin and send us home.

Some of us, I confess-- my family high among them-- are weather wimps. While everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything, my clan of climate-phobes does something. We hit the phone in hail or hurricane, or did so before today's weather maps in all their pastel splendor and perpetual lip motion meteorologists silenced us. And yet, as these weather reporters go on, their satellite-bred graphs begin to show what their breezy words ignore: the climate is changing, the globe's suffering its swings, and their predictions are less than finite. Erratic weather, record breaking weather, weather warped by global warming, heats and chills us. Not the chilling solved by jackets and galoshes, not the warming eased by air conditioning or the turning on the fan to beat the heat. Today's longest, coldest, wettest, hottest weather turns the whole planet into a changeable New England. Can we ever be innocent of weather again? Can we ever go back to the notion of the benign climate, when our man-made one becomes ever fiercer? As our fossil fuels heat the atmosphere, we drift in meteorological mayhem.

How can we agents of destruction diminish the greenhouse gases from our smokestacks and tailpipes that could slay our place on this planet? Our seeming skill at climate control has allowed us to spread and shelter where we will. Our power to set the thermostat has let us think we can tame the weather. Global warming tells us otherwise. To err is human, but to continue to do so is lethal. Change we must, and some begin to do so. Will we, or won't we modify our life patterns to re-pattern weather? Will we survive or in the course of ages vanish? Whatever our will and fate, one thing I know: weather is no longer a fragrant memory, no more a poetic nuisance joke or joy.

ROSS: Commentator Jane Holtz Kay is author of "Asphalt Nation."



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