5/14/03: Sci Fi Weather Channel

Download the soundtrack to this essay!

Wow, the weather sure has been lousy the last couple of weeks. It's gray gray and more gray. I figured it would let up this week. May is usually one of the nicest months of the year in New York City -- crisp, clean and blue with puffy clouds. May is usually the reward you get before the summer humidity sets in. But check it out...



More gray. More moisture. More haze. It's as though New York City has suddenly swapped weather with San Francisco or Seattle (unfortunately the smog and pollen stayed here). Walking around town this morning the air had a certain feel to it that made me think I might find a Redwood tree and lush ferns popping out of a sidewalk pit. It's moist out there.

It occurs to me that this is the weather of the future. And that the future is arriving much faster than any of us might have expected.

I accept the idea that the global climate is a fragile system that can change suddenly and dramatically. The interesting research that's been done on Greenland ice cores makes this clear. I also accept the idea that human beings and their activities are having a significant impact on global climate. I don't need to see data about melting Alaskan glaciers or cleaving Antarctic ice bergs to be convinced of this. All I have to do is walk down Court Street in downtown Brooklyn and try to breathe the air. There is no question our diesel buses are changing it into something that is way less breathable than what our caveman ancestors inhaled.

If, as sober and reasonable people are predicting, Earth's ice caps are melting and seas will be rising significantly this century, then what kind of weather are we going to get in the meantime? I'm no meteorologist, but it seems entirely logical that we're going to get the kind of weather we have right now. There will be more moisture in the air during the warm months which means we'll have more cloud cover, rain, humidity, and haze in the spring. I imagine that the increased moisture will make the summers here in NYC more brutally hot and sticky than usual as heat and smog gets trapped beneath the cloud dome. I also imagine that certain pathogens and illnesses will have a field day in this sort of weather and, as we're seeing with SARS, viruses will figure out all kinds of new ways to torment the human respiratory system.

I don't think we should keep calling this great climate change "global warming." That's a serious misnomer. It would be easy for an ostrich-headed skeptic to look at this week's weather and say, "Warming? Baloney! I wish it were warmer!" More moisture in the air could also lead to cool, cloudy spring days and colder, snowier winters like the one we had this past year. All in all, we should expect the weather to become much more erratic as the Earth figures out how to cleanse herself of homo sapiens and find some sort of climactic balance.

Maybe it's the weather that's getting me down, but increasingly I see that we're a species that could only be compared to a weed, cancer or virus in its relationship to the planetary body on which it grows and thrives. Unlike a weed, cancer or virus, however, we have evolved to become conscious of the impact we're having on our host. The question is: Have we evolved enough to get ourselves together as a species and collectively deal with the big problems at-hand?

Honk away,
--Aaron