February 27, 2012, by Brigitte Nerlich
Weather or Climate? Enjoy or worry?
One afternoon last week I was watering some newly planted shrubs in the garden. The sun was warming my back and I was trying to enjoy that experience. However, there was this nagging voice in my head saying ‘drought, drought, drought’. In the evening I did the washing up, which I usually also enjoy, and poured the soapy water down the drain, when the voice started up again reminding me of a possible drought. I told myself that it was all scaremongering and exaggeration. Then I tried to remember when I had last experienced what we in Germany call a ‘Landregen’ or steady and lengthy period of rain soaking the land, and I couldn’t.
There is now talk of 1976, a year when I travelled all over Eastern Europe and the Middle East as a student, and it was, of course, hot. So when I came back and everybody talked about a hot summer and a drought I was a bit surprised (and blasé about it). From reminiscing about that, my thoughts travelled to weather and climate. Was this unusual but enjoyable weather I had experienced in the garden just funny or unseasonal weather or was it part of extreme weather patterns indicative of climate change?
The debate about links between extreme weather events and climate change has been going on for at least a decade. Most recently, the IPCC published a draft report on extreme weather and climate adaptation at the end of 2011, a year marked by a series of extreme weather events which affected my sister (wildfires and evacuation) (see her photo of a wildfire approaching her house in New Mexico) and one of my students (floods and evacuation), and therefore brought thoughts about issues related to climate change closer to home.
2011 was also a year when, surprisingly, according to several studies, media attention to climate change slumped as well as public concern (a topic that will be explored in more detail in a future blog). This research also showed that extreme weather had little effect on public opinion regarding climate change.
So am I just being silly? Should I just go out and enjoy the weather without listening to the voice in my head talking about drought and Landregen and 1976?