When I was growing up, I was taught that it wasn’t polite to discuss money or politics in public. By that standard, I turned out to be rude by profession. I worked for years for publications and a cable news outlet that asked me to opine regularly on both topics.
The one subject deemed anodyne enough for light conversation — then as now, professionally and otherwise — was the weather. Surely no one could be offended by remarking how warm or cold it was.
That was before global warming.
Boasting about a windfall may still be declasse. Democrats and Republicans will bicker forever. There’s nothing, though, that can set off a crowd these days like declaring that the latest bout of wintry weather was either caused — or not caused — by climate change. Weather is the new politics.
No one who lives in the Northeast doubts that it’s been a rough winter. Snow totals have been near record highs and temperatures have been near record lows.
As a result, “extreme weather” has become a feature of meteorology. In fact, the word “weather” hardly ever appears in the press without the word “extreme” before it.
I attribute that mostly to the hyperbolic efforts of media outlets to attract ever-bigger audiences. Plain “weather” is boring compared with “extreme weather.” Boring doesn’t improve ratings.
There’s more to it than that, though. Every time it snows a lot, or rains in buckets, or the wind blows hard and long, someone, in fact a lot of people, say that’s proof that the globe is warming because of pollution. Then, they add, isn’t it finally time to do something about it?
My own view is that it’s certainly time to do something about it. After all, who’s in favor of air pollution? Not me. In fact, I’m proud to say that one of my clients is a serious environmental think tank.
Just because it’s snowing or raining isn’t evidence of anything. As far back as I can remember, it sometimes got awfully hot in the summer and very snowy in the winter. It’s still pretty much that way.
If I were a scientist, I guess I would have more to say on the subject and have some credibility. I’m not a scientist, though, and neither are the vast majority of weather worriers who attribute similar trends to the planet getting dangerously warm.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a climate-change denier. I’m just annoyed that every time the sky turns gray I have to suffer an onslaught of self-serving lectures from people who have done nothing more than read the newspapers the same way I have.
My parents tried to teach to me long ago that it was wrong to provoke other people needlessly. That was why they admonished me to avoid mentioning money and politics in polite company. They were right.
They weren’t saying that I shouldn’t care about those issues. In fact, they made clear that both were important. They were saying that I shouldn’t treat them lightly.
It’s the same thing about weather these days. Air pollution is a serious and complex topic. Reducing it is and should remain a priority.
Professionals should debate how to do it well and decide what makes sense and what doesn’t based on reliable, long-term data.
That’s quite different than a crazy person at a reception haranguing anyone within earshot that the latest snowstorm is reason enough to elect more Democrats to Congress. That’s just rude and inexcusable. It also makes no sense.
Sigmund Freud has been falsely credited with saying “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” A journalist trying to lampoon Freudian psychoanalysis probably did. In any case, the modern-day equivalent of the phrase could well be “Sometimes snow is just snow.”
That’s true. It’s time to stop politicizing the weather.
Jeffrey H. Birnbaum is a columnist for The Washington Times, a Fox News contributor and president of BGR Public Relations.