One of the most common conversation topics of all time is the weather.
“Nice day!” “Some weather we’re having!” “Man, it’s hot!” “Give me a blanket — I’ve never been this cold!”
Please note that any initial expression about the weather must use an exclamation point!
These days, though, comments about the weather might lead to a question about climate. Climate is the average weather conditions of some area over a 30 year period. So says National Geographic.
People have been talking about influencing climate since the ancient Greeks. They believed they could do that by cutting down trees.
In fact History.com says that until the 1930s it was “widely held that rain follows the plow.” The idea was that agricultural practices like tilling fields would result in more rain.
Now we know it is washing your car that makes it rain. See how far we’ve come!
Following the history of climate, it was in the 1820s that Joseph Fourier first talked about the “greenhouse effect.” In the 1850s Eunice Foote, an amateur scientist, followed up on that idea. She had some interesting insights and experiments, but was overlooked for almost a century.
What she and Fourier and other scientists were all trying to figure out was how much heat water vapor and carbon dioxide add to the earth. (Humidity — water vapor — has been solved, and here’s a chart if you care to look up the heat index for your current temperature.)
Cause and effect
I’m sure you know that high humidity makes the temperature feel hotter. So does carbon dioxide.
Knowing that, it is a short trip to believe that the cause of warmer temperatures is, at least in part, CO2 emissions being trapped in the atmosphere. That is the greenhouse effect posited by Fourier 200 years ago.
We see the effect (warmer temperatures) and look for the cause. CO2 is one of many possibilities, but it gets most of the attention because it is one over which we have some control.
I used cause and effect recently on a golf course when I hit a shot that went just where I wanted it to go. “How did that happen,” I wondered. The effect made me look for the cause which, sadly, I did not find.
One day Jesus’ followers had a cause and effect question. In Jerusalem they met a blind man. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked Jesus, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
They saw the effect, and they speculated on the cause. In their minds, there were two leading candidates: his sin or the sins of his parents.
Turns out that both of those were wrong, and I’ll come back to that in a minute.
Climate change once upon a time
Geologists in the time of Ms. Foote “were discovering the world’s climate and vegetation had once been radically different. In the periods when coal deposits were forming in swampy seas, geologists concluded that the atmosphere had once had much higher levels of carbon dioxide.” (climate.gov)
Wait, what? The atmosphere once had much higher levels of CO2? Where did it go?
If those geologists were correct and the earth was once hotter, then the climate must have changed (cooled) considerably. How? And if so, could it change again in the same way?
Cause and effect and a blind man
According to a column in the New York Times, we are facing “a lifetime of hotter summers.” Golly. Some people, the column goes on to say, are looking “for more climate-friendly places to live,” though not many are doing that now.
He writes that “one of the fastest-growing U.S. cities is Phoenix, which has suffered temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit for much of this summer. That trend could start to change as people endure more disasters.”
Some see a cause (hot weather) and speculate an effect (people moving). Speculation is another word for “educated guess.”
Just like the disciples of Jesus asking about the blind man, many of the speculations related to the climate sound logical.
First, the disciples assumed this was some kind of punishment. We are inclined toward evil aren’t we? But Jesus knew the answer, and the man’s blindness wasn’t about sin. It was about glorifying God, and people are still doing that today more than 2,000 years after the miracle.
Why it matters
If we really want to do good in the world, we have to know something about what is going on in the world. Personally I am not a fan of politics, and the climate has been politicized, so I shy away from it.
Nevertheless I have forced myself to learn about climate so I can know how to do good. One great way to do good is to be a good steward of the earth, which is our home.
But we didn’t create it, so there are things about it, like there were that blind man, that we still don’t know. One thing I can say with certainty is that though we are stewards of the earth and can use it well or badly, we are not in complete control.
I wrote earlier that if every nuclear bomb in the world exploded simultaneously, it would not destroy the earth. We’re not going to destroy it with CO2 either, but we still need to be good stewards.
My own opinion is that good stewards of the earth use all the resources they have been given, including fossil fuels, but they use them wisely. We are getting much better at that in the U.S., and we will continue to improve.
I also want to do good in stewarding my own resources, especially as that does good for people around me.
The effect of good has many possible causes. See if you can implement some of those today.
Do good for the world and do good with your resources. It’s in you.