Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Rags to Riches Weather

Readers across America may identify with several recent weather events in our region of the Midwest--northwest Illinois. For example, in the last two weeks my personal rain gauge has collected over ten inches of liquid water. As I write many areas are experiencing record river levels. This statistic is in sharp contrast to the widespread drought of 2012 which began early that year with unprecedented March heat and culminated with crop-wilting drought throughout the year’s growing season. The pathetic drought of last summer, however, contrasted to the deluge of July 2011 when fifteen inches of rain poured down on our locality in less than 24 hours.

Some climate commentators have speculated that weather extremes have intensified as a result of anthropogenic climate change. Our perception of “extremes” is easy to detect in these recent events. The discussion about weather has a popular conversational dimension. Jonathan Overpeck, professor of atmospheric sciences and geosciences, observes in his article “Climate Surprises,” that, “It is hard for anyone, even specialists in the study of climate, to know just how much of this impression is due to our limited perspective and imperfect memories, and how much stems from genuine changes in the Earth’s condition.”

It is impossible that dense human habitation does not affect our weather to some degree. Since 1830 the human population has increased seven-fold to over seven billion souls. In search of adequate living conditions many people have crowded into urban areas, pleasing locales such as coastal regions, or other desirable but environmentally sensitive areas. Our climate changes owing to a multitude of causes. Atmospheric carbon dioxide increase from fossil fuel consumption amounts to only 1/8700 of the total atmosphere according to my calculations. This factor is only one of numerous man-caused factors but has generated significant but largely unwarranted public angst. In our politically correct, agenda-driven age, some complex problems are perceived to have a simple solution, even though long term costs of the solution may be billions or trillions of dollars.

The greatest danger to Planet Earth with respect to weather may be ignorance or misunderstanding of the multiple factors driving weather. Across the spectrum of weather phenomena, some events are perceived as extreme and harmful while others are deemed normal and beneficial. Distastrous or inconvenient weather receives most of the press coverage. Regional climate events such as droughts and floods provide an example. Media weather correspondents attract more listeners if they can highlight below or above normal temperatures or below or above normal rainfall or snowfall. Droughts such as the horrendous 2012 event, and seemingly more frequent floods, appear to be out of the ordinary. Television forecasters concentrate on what is happening at the moment. Interest in their stories is driven, of course, by viewer demand. More spectacular weather anomalies in recent centuries tend to be forgotten or under publicized.

Had such “harmful” weather events never occurred, it is doubtful that our planetary system would function the way our Creator designed it and intended it to be for man’s benefit. Long term climatic trends may drive desirable population redistribution or inspire creative responses such as development of drought resistant hybrids and agricultural practices. The human intellect is capable of responding to difficulty and challenge, not only in response to daily life struggles, but even with respect to “rags to riches” weather.

Scripture passages concerning hardships could relate to weather adversity. The Apostle James claims, “Count it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1: 2-3) The Apostle Peter repeats a similar sentiment, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (I Peter 1: 6) The Bible speaks mostly of our spiritual needs and welfare, but hidden with the spiritual counsel is awareness of our physical welfare and concerns with our environment. Passages such as Phil. 4:9, “And my God will meet all your needs…” and II Peter 1:3, His divine power has given us everything we need for life…” apply to our environment and our ability to manage the conditions brought about by weather and climate.

Public attention to weather and climate may appropriately stress how wonderfully the weather/climate system supplies the needs of our burgeoning human population in contrast to highlighting inconvenient and occasionally disastrous events. In the last half of the 20th century there were gloomy forecasts for the potential for famine, overpopulation, and even the imminent return of an ice age. We should be responsible and energetic stewards of our home planet’s well-being. We must not forget to offer thanks to God for our fine-tuned system of weather and climate along with our Creator’s plan for the sustenance and well-being it provides humanity.