An old saying among weather forecasters goes like this: “Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get.”
Summer is drawing to a close, and the weather we’ve been getting is wild, to say the least. In my part of the country, it has been the wettest on record — this after forecasters predicted it would be hotter and drier than usual. South of the border, the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay continue to wring out biblical amounts of rain, 10 days after it made its first of four landfalls in Florida. A hurricane named Gustav is churning in the Gulf of Mexico and showing a family resemblance to its evil older cousin, Katrina. Two, maybe three new tropical systems are hot on its heels. Forecasters say it’s just a matter of time before one of them takes aim at our East Coast.
Summer and big weather have always gone together. What’s new is our mounting sense of resignation about the lousy hand the weather seems to be dealing us.
It used to be that a rained-out weekend was cause for chagrin; back-to-back rainy weekends were an outrage. I didn’t notice much rejoicing in the stormy weather that plagued many parts of the country this past summer. On the other hand, I didn’t notice many who were as annoyed about it as they might have been. Instead of cursing the weather gods, we seemed to sigh collectively and trudge on, as if we were somehow fated to endure the relentless storms.
It’s not that we are disengaged from the weather. Information that was once available only to professional meteorologists is now available to anyone with an Internet connection. The Weather Network’s website is one of the most popular Internet destinations in the country, averaging 42 million visits a month.
As the daily parade of storms laid waste to family vacations, street festivals, backyard barbecues and just about anything else that takes place out of doors, we fired up our TVs, laptops and cellphones. It wasn’t enough to be rained on; we wanted to see where the storms were coming from, where they were going, when the next batch would arrive.
Everyone talked about the weather, and not a few shrugged and muttered, “Global warming, I guess,” then moved on. That was troubling, not because people thought the lousy summer was linked to climate change — maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t — but because of the casual idea that we don’t have much choice but to live with the consequences. It’s as if we’ve reformulated the old forecaster’s adage: because of the climate we’ve created, we’re getting the weather we deserve.
I wonder if we’re starting to suffer from climate change fatigue. Face it — the sheer volume of bad news about climate change is pretty discouraging. We do our best to live greener, yet the news just seems to get worse: a big chunk breaks off the Arctic ice shelf; hurricanes pop up like poison mushrooms in the overheated Atlantic; one-third of the species that depend on coral reefs face extinction. The road from discouragement to indifference is straight and short.
Churches helped to put climate change on the public radar by asking everyone to consider the interconnectedness of creation. Keeping it on the radar is shaping up to be the next challenge. It may demand new theologies that focus on hope and how to sustain it. We can change our lifestyle, sign treaties and develop planet-saving technologies, but first we have to believe the battle is winnable. To find the front lines, we needn’t look any further than our own souls. Let indifference break through and the battle could be lost.
This column first appeared in The United Church Observer’s October 2008 issue with the title “Observations.”