What is a “good” climate?

March 14, 2017 1 Comment

One of the more difficult things about being a broadcast meteorologist is that different people enjoy different seasons. I probably like Fall the best, but I enjoy all of the seasons. I like to see the changes. I enjoy a fresh snow almost as much as green garden. This is not the case for most people. When I first started in my career back in the 1990s, I was surprised by how many people disliked winter. Subjectively speaking, it seemed like a bit over half (maybe 60%) of the people I met out-and-about would constantly complain about winter. During the 2000s, I would say the number rose to 70%. The trend has not stopped in recent years. As of now, I would confidently estimate at least 80% of the people I talk to, despise winter. They really, really hate it. It makes my job a little tougher because I can’t smile or be happy to let everyone know it is going to snow, or that it will be cold enough to thicken up the ice for ice fishing. The number of people who enjoy winter activities is dwindling.

Why do people hate winter so much more nowadays? I would point to two major trends – jobs and age.

It is a fact that fewer people have jobs that require working in “the elements”. Most of us live in a climate-controlled world. Our cars, houses, and work-places are always comfortable. People are less adaptable to the changing seasons because they don’t spend much time outside working. It is not anyone’s fault, it is just a reality in the information age.

Also, the population is getting older. It is an unfortunate fact of life that we lose our balance and coordination when we age. As we age, we can’t handle ice and snow very well. Thus, many people are kind-of forced to sit inside most of the winter (and curse the weather).

The point I am getting at is more and more people like mild or warm dry weather as compared to cold or wintry weather. This has always be the case, but it is more so in the present day (according to my subjective experience). If we had to return to the days of winters with more routine 20 and 30 below zero temps, I think Wisconsin would become a ghost town(state). People would flee to a warmer areas.

Most people want a warm climate!

Maybe that is why some environmentalists and climatologists are having such a hard time convincing citizens of the world that anthropogenic global warming (AGW, aka “climate change”) is an awful thing. According to most statistics of human well-being, right now it is the best time for the average person to be alive on the planet.

2016 was one of the warmest years in the last couple of centuries

So it is kind-of interesting when we read headlines like “We’ve set a climate change record for 2016, and it is awful“. Judging by the temperatures in Wisconsin last year, it was AWESOME, not awful. We had mild winter conditions in early 2016. This was followed by a summer that had hardly any hot days. This was then followed by above normal conditions in the Fall. It was in the 60s to around 70 and sunny during the first 10 days of November…and people LOVED it! I did not hear any complaints about how awful the climate(weather) was. If people could dial-up that type of temperature trend every year, they would.

Of course, there were some legitimate complaints about weather parameters other than temperature. Heavy rain and flooding events dominated our list of the top ten weather events of 2016. And therein lies “the rub”. If the climate changes in dramatic ways that make it more difficult to produce food then it will not be so awesome. The average temperature of the earth has climbed about a degree over the last hundred years but so far this has not caused world-wide problems. There is more food produced around the globe than ever before. If the climate warms another couple of degrees by 2100 and we are able to adapt, grow food, and deliver it to where it is needed, I don’t anticipate too many people complaining.

Much more of the earth was once covered in glaciers

Which brings me back to the question in the title: What is a “good” climate? Due to recency bias, the status quo effect, or other cognitive biases, we are likely to claim that the climate of the recent past (within our lifetime) is the “best” climate, and that any changes going forward will be “bad”. We know however, that the earth has been much colder and much hotter throughout its geological history. What was the “best” climate? Why is today’s climate “awful”? Considering our anthropocentric bias, the climate since the last ice age seems to have been the best for humans. We are the dominant species on the planet. The climate has allowed us to spread out and colonize nearly every corner of the earth. This is good, right?

I would say yes, but then again, I am an “outdoor” person. I like to garden, enjoy natural settings, and I like all the seasons. I would rather be outside than inside. This is not the case for many people. Some people love the city and could do without “nature”. Believe it or not, I have even met some people (not too unlike Cypher in the Matrix), who dream of a day when we live in virtual reality and the only “nature” is that which is generated by the computational power of computers and software. In such a scenario, the only requirement for well-being is a source of energy. It would not matter one bit (to humans) if the climate was hot or cold, or the entire earth was covered in data centers.

As of now, the climate range we have experienced since the last ice age IS a “good” climate for our current lifestyles. It has not become “awful” yet. Until we have a greater mastery over the weather and climate of the planet, we should continue to strive toward cleaner and more efficient living in order to lessen any negative impacts.

Meteorologist Justin Loew

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