Another year of weather is coming to a close. Even with some record-breaking snowfall from this past weekend’s storm in the eastern U.S., in many ways weather this year was not much different from any other year since the regular recording of temperature, precipitation and wind began across much of the globe 150 years ago.
The big difference today is the focus on weather extremes and the incessant tying of the extremes to the human culpability of living with clean-burning, reliable, abundant fuel.
The blame game is predictable. First, find a serious, weather event. Next, figure out what was unique about the event. Go on to claim that that uniqueness was because of human activity. Fire up the media, Hollywood celebs, socialites, spin doctors, politicians, pastors and pontiffs, to vent your discovery of man-made disaster. Then grab the fame and fortune that falls from the frenzy.
It’s been popular to tie the category 4 and 5 hurricanes that hit during hurricane season this year to human excesses. Never mind the dearth of such calamities for nearly 12 years prior. And, you’d think the droughts, wildfires and floods that struck this year were a recent human invention.
Besides, anthropogenic climate change has been blamed for everything from A to Z: from increased risk of an Asteroid strike to Zebra mussel invasions.
For sure human activity impacts the climate. Every time a city replaced a forest, the climate was changed. The questions are: to what extent and to what effect? Does the urbanization have a long-term, negative global impact on climate? Are people and the planet worse off for the citification?
With beneficent governance, people and the planet are undoubtedly better off for the development. Concern for doing right by people translates into beneficial use of what natural resources sustain people in the immediate and far future.
Conservation biology professor Chris Thomas, in his new book “Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction” (PublicAffairs, September 2017) demonstrates how original habitats are “not so much destroyed as replaced by a new environment that still contains quite a lot of species.”
Furthermore, “[o]nce one appreciates that there may be several different human-created habitats in any given region, containing somewhat different species (i.e., the species found in crops, pastures and urban areas are not all the same), then the total number of species found within a region may be just as high, or even higher, than it was before.”
The thoughtful meeting of the needs of the populace can benefit even the planet. People are not necessarily bad for the earth. Because of improved farming practices and seed varieties, crop yields are increasing. And, carbon dioxide, a plant nutrient, is apparently causing measurable increase in vegetative cover across the planet. Numerous peer-reviewed studies support the benefits of more carbon dioxide.
On the other hand, right now, so many people — an integral, precious part of the biosphere — are not doing so well. About a billion people lack access to safe drinking water. More than two billion people are exposed to often dangerous levels of cancer-causing chemicals from indoor air pollution generated by poorly ventilated kitchens. People in less-developed countries often resort to using dried dung, agricultural waste, wood, and other organic fuels for food preparation and heating.
Do middle-class delegates at world climate conferences realize this? Do they care?
Whether they do or not, relatively clean burning, inexpensive, and readily well-controlled fossil fuels are constantly fingered as the bad guys by ostensible saviors of the planet.
For the sake of people and the planet, perspective on the environment and especially the global warming issue must change for the better.
So, as another year comes to a close, in good weather or bad, we should plan for a more pleasant climate for people and the planet. The future would be much better if we deliver basic human services to people across the globe who so desperately need them.
• Anthony J. Sadar is a certified consulting meteorologist and author of “In Global Warming We Trust: Too Big to Fail” (Stairway Press, 2016).