Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ignore the Snark; it was a Freaky Blizzard After All

The meme on the Internet today is: It's winter. There was a storm. Snow fell. What's the big freakin' deal?

Indeed, the New York Tristate area did a lot better than predicted. This was merely a severe winter storm, rather than a catastrophe. New England, which got upward of three feet of snow, feels differently, of course.

The gist behind the snark is that authorities and media over-caution. And that's dangerous snark, because it fuels the cynical complacency that prevented people from heeding warnings prior to Hurricane Sandy.

It's the same willful snarky ignorance that makes climate change deniers sneer about global warming during cold snaps, and makes climate change proponents sanctimonious whenever there's a forest fire or flood. One event proves nothing. An underwhelming superstorm doesn't mean all storms will underwhelm, a cold snap doesn't disprove overall warming, and a given weather quirk can't be blamed on carbon.

But this was a crazy, crazy storm. Winds may not have been savage, and snowfall might not have broken records everywhere, but the following NY Times report, about a driver on the Long Island Expressway, illustrates the freakiness:
"Barbara Barkiano, 43, a housecleaner, tried to make her way along the highway behind the plows, but the snow snapped both windshield wipers on her Honda Civic hybrid."
Snapped her windshield wipers as she was driving? Who ever heard of such a thing??

The wiper-snapping rate of snowfall, and the Sandy-ish massive size of the storm (neither obvious from day-after observation) were just crazy.


Jojo the Hun said...

A few comments about the words we use to describe people's beliefs and attitudes toward global warming.

I would guess that most "climate change proponents" are not proponents, or advocates, but in fact opponents of the phenomenon of climate change. Or do you mean proponents of the acceptance of the fact as a fact that climate has actually been changing? Or, of the theory of humanity-induced (anthropogenic) climate change? It's not clear.

The term "climate change deniers" can be interpreted literally to mean either people who deny as fact that climate ever changes, people who deny as fact that the world has been warming for the past 150 years or so, and/or those who deny the validity of the theory of anthropogenic climate change.

In common usage, however, "climate change deniers" also seems intended to include the many people who actually affirm the existence of global warming over the past 150 or so years, but generally think there is significant exaggeration in some or all of these: the extent of past warming, the extent that it has been anthropogenic, the rate of future warming, and the economic costs of future warming, as well as an underestimation of the costs of proposed actions to reduce future global warming.

The term "lukewarmists" is sometimes used for this latter group. Pejoratives of choice seem to be "climate change denier" and "global warming alarmist".

The term "climate denier" is used by intelligent people just way too often.

You, a wordsmith and reasonably concerned citizen, might be interested in promulgating and perhaps contributing to more accurate terminology.

Jim Leff said...

Jojo, thanks for the posting. Good points, all. Eminently logical and reasonable.

But the thing is, it's always possible to pick apart language - even rigorously academically language - to find errant dabs of illogic embedded, intrinsically, within the linguistics. Human language is not, after all, computer language. It evolves expressionistically, not academically (as I explained here), so a lack of internal logic and accuracy is inevitable. Not to get all epistemological, but language can never be all that precise; we count on the mysterious right-brained phenomenon called "context" to get us across the countless intrinsic gaps and land mines.

So I'm more of a language expressionist. I flow with whatever word choice loads the sentence with the idea, sentiment, and personality I'm hoping to convey. If it works, I've been successful, regardless of structural rigors.

That said, with all things being equal, it's better to strive for as much clarity as possible. So I appreciate your suggestions.

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