…is the weather. Or more accurately, this week weather was the coldest celebrity in America. Har. Har. Brrr.
I honestly think if I couldn’t talk about what the sky looks like or what’s messing up the sidewalks, or how bad and in what bad way it feels to be standing at the bus stop, I would have no means of initiating conversation with strangers, and even some of my acquaintances. I know I’m not alone in this, because if I don’t bring up Mother Nature’s latest outfit (or conniption fit, as it were) the person standing beside me inevitably does.
Why do we talk about the weather so much?
Sometimes, I think I’m fascinated with the weather in the same way that I’m fascinated with some celebrities, because they seem to be completely out of control. Did no one tell the star “Hey, maybe don’t go ahead with that last bottle of champagne/scanty outfit/plane ticket to North Korea?” Similarly, where the weather is concerned, there’s no stopping her. Sure we have fire and irrigation pumps, refrigerators and Polar Fleece, but when ice and wind tear down the powerlines, or a heat wave sucks up the water supply, I have to acknowledge that nature’s behavior is beyond our grasp.
The fascination only ramps up when I see a breakdown on the horizon. Where weather is concerned, the breakdown could be climate change. (Here I should repeat the atmospheric scientists’ refrain: Weather is not climate. See NASA for more.) Like a breakdown, it’s hard to pinpoint a start, an end, or make a clear connection between the possible symptoms of climate change and the trends that seem to cause it. How many drinks does it take to make a blackout? How hard do you have to party before it becomes a problem? How much carbon dioxide has to be emitted to push surface temperatures higher? How high can temperatures climb before one can say the climate is changing? Even those closest to the problem, like the many atmospheric scientists who were consulted on the latest polar vortex, say they can’t label causes and effects with certainty. If anything, they are quicker than others to acknowledge the complexity of the situation.
The breakdown that is climate change is also serious and potentially tragic, just like the binges, flings and erratic behaviors I gawk at in the tabloids.
For some celebrities who are on the brink, the answer is intervention (occasionally courtesy of VH1). And intervention might be an option for the weather, too. Some scientists are researching options for geoengineering, by either removing carbon from the air —targeting the source of climate change— and/or reducing surface temperatures —targeting the effects of climate change. The strategies are somewhat straightforward, but it’s not clear what the side effects might be. Managing those may be as challenging or more so than confronting climate change itself.
When I see a celebrity tailspin swirling, my first thought is, “Slow down.” It’s counter to western culture and human inclinations to step back in the face of a problem. But slowing down is a strategy that seems to work in a lot of other situations. I think about it as I skitter along my favorite path in the winter, making better time than I ever do in the sunny months. I’m rushing, but everything around me —the squirrels, the birds, the trees, and the river— is slowing down. Even steam clouds puffing from the nearby stacks look fatter and lazier in the cold.
So maybe the best way to keep up with wild Mother Nature is to match her mellow pace. One option is to keep the wild pace, try fighting the carbon hangover with an aerosol bender, or another possibility is to cool the jets for a bit, and take time for some careful measurements and observations before launching the next scheme.
I resolve to keep my eyes on the clouds today, and the bigger ones on the horizon. I’ll also keep in mind that I might see both best if I’m standing still for a while. If I see you waiting there, too, I know what we can talk about…