Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Global warming gets a new beat

According to the Gannett News Service:
Last year was one of the 10 warmest on record. It was marked by deadly and costly wildfires that led to the largest evacuation in California history, spring storms that unleashed 600 tornadoes across the Great Plains and South, severe flooding in Texas and Oklahoma and extreme drought across much of the Southeast, according to a preliminary report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's climate center.

"It certainly seems like something ominous is going on when you experience these extremes," says Gregory Berg, an assistant professor of music at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.

When not commenting on global warming, Prof. Berg co-directs opera at the Racine Symphony.

The idea of weather as an omen did not originate with Prof. Berg. Two thousand years, "extreme" weather was also observed, as described by Plutarch in his history of Roman General Crassus' expedition to Arabia:

Here, too, he met with the first ill-omen....As Crassus was taking the army over the river at Zeugma, he encountered preternaturally violent thunder, and the lightning flashed in the faces of the troops, and during the storm a hurricane broke upon the bridge, and carried part of it away; two thunderbolts fell upon the very place where the army was going to encamp; and one of the general's horses, magnificently caparisoned, dragged away the groom into the river and was drowned. It is said, too, that when they went to take up the first standard, the eagle of itself turned its head backward; ....
The two points here are:
  1. "Extreme" weather has always been with us. It is not, as claimed by Al Goreans, new. Temperatures have always and will always fluctuate
  2. There is a strong human instinct to interpret unusual weather, as Prof. Berg does, as an "omen"; The existence of this instinct means that we humans must be careful not to believe too easily in such omens.

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