Drought, Weather Cycles, and the Historian's View

Today's Washington Post has a short, but juice-laden piece on this summer's weather and its connection (or not) to "climate change" and long-term weather cycles. It's definitely worth reading, if only because so many commentators have jumped to the easy conclusion that this summer's weather is the result of global climate change. (*1) The WaPo piece puts that conclusion-jumping into perspective. I mentioned my view on that in my previous post, but the historian in me (you know: the person who takes the Long View of the Big Picture) would like to add this:

Sure, this summer's weather has consists of broken records: new high temperatures; new streak of days without rain, and so forth.

But it's worth noting the obvious: records can be, and are, broken, right? Back in the 1930s, for example, people marveled at the abysmal stretch of heat/drought/whatever, as records were broken right and left, and they wondered about its causes.

So, too, back in, say, the 17th century: When people experienced "exceptional" weather --- lack of rain; too much rain, etc. --- they looked for causes. At that time, they typically blamed human sin and error for their misery: god was punishing them. In the 21st century, we simply have a different explanation for "unusual weather." (Which, by the way, usually means the bad stuff. No one ever bitches when, as has been the case for the past three, four years, we have spectacular weather.)

Nor does it follow that new records/broken records are necessarily indicative of anything other than "Oh, hey, we're having an unusually brutal summer of a sort not seen since the 1930s" (or whenever).

Is climate change a factor in this summer's weather? Perhaps. Perhaps even probably. But we would do well to recognize that climate and weather operate in long-term cycles.

Indeed, at a time when everyone chatters about "nature" and the "environment," surely one way to honor both is by respecting their complexity, in this case by recognizing that many of nature's patterns are cyclical and that those cycles typically extend for periods that extend well beyond one persons lifetime. This year's awful weather may be more than just this year's awful weather or evidence of "climate change." It could be part of a long-term cyclical shift.

Embracing a deeper understanding of nature is as important as the knee-jerk conclusion that new weather records equal "climate change." Jump to a conclusion, and you may end up missing the bigger, more important story.


*1: Again: I'm not a climate-denier, or whatever term is being used these days. I've no doubt the scientists are on to something. But I'm also a long-time weather watcher with an enormous respect for nature and its forces, which are much bigger than me.