In American culture, commenting on the weather is basically meaningless conversation. It's not about the content--it's about the motivation: phatic communication, in which the only purpose is to demonstrate a willingness to talk, a openness to communication, a desire to be friendly and polite. It could be about anything, and because of that, it's really not about anything at all. Hence, the weather. Locally, it's been, "thank God it's finally spring!" as the initiation for every casual conversation. (Except in CRW, where it's "when the hell will they turn on the AC?")
Of course this is all very normal. In fact, it's the only instance I can think of in which American culture and Chinese culture completely coincide, the phatic function of commenting on the weather.
But why? Why is it that talk of the weather is always actually talk of something else? Why isn't commenting on the weather really about the weather? I suspect that it's because we're fish-in-the-water, so to speak, in our open air ocean, swimming along oblivious to that which envelops us, sustains us, comfortably and unfailingly and unobtrusively.
This is my conjecture about why (some) people don't believe in global warming. Like fish in the water, it's hard to think about how the elements that sustain our lives could somehow go wrong, fail us, not be there for us, because they always have been there and we've never had to think about them before. Weather is supposed to be the backdrop for real life, and backdrops are supposed to be unnoticed. So now, we've got smart people who've spent years studying something minutely and in detail that most of us only comment on in order to get some small talk going, telling us that we've got to stop taking some things for granted; and we don't want to listen because it means recognizing that security is an illusion and the future is not guaranteed.
A couple nights ago, I had a horrible dream about the end of the world. The world was drowning because the ice caps had melted and no one had ever done anything about global warming. We all knew about it. As we were all drowning, floating past one another and losing each other in the huge Noah's flood sans Noah, we all shouted mournfully to each other, "global warming..." It sounds silly, but I woke up shaken, because Clare was in this dream, and in the dream, we were all going to die. There was nowhere safe. Now, I know that I had this dream because I read Kim Stanley Robinson's Forty Signs of Rain. Not "typical" SF (that is to say, not futuristic), but written with the same clarity and coherence of the Mars trilogy and with the same brisk and effective characterization. What's frightening about the novel is that it's not apocalyptic. Robinson sets the novel in an ever-shifting present and it reads like it's describing tomorrow--a future so present that it's in fact now. And it's about the daily grind: the lab work of scientists hard at work on biotech because that's what gets funded, the reality of daily political compromises, the inevitable failure of well-intentioned people to persuade others that they're right. And at the end of the novel, a storm hits DC with devestating impact reminiscent of Katrina...and Robinson published in 2004. Reading Forty Signs a couple days after reading Feminarian's posts on New Orleans, the prophetic quality of Robinson's scenario struck me with the kind of sick force that only gets worked out in a nightmare, because we can't bear to realize the precariousness of existence directly.
I think this is particularly hard for Christians because our belief in a loving, benevolent, providential God somehow translates into an inability to acknowledge that life is precarious. That through human effort it can become more so--or less so. God functions as a guarantee that these things that are too huge and horrible to contemplate or imagine just won't happen. God is good, and he is the Guarantor against Global Warming. Well, that's just crap. Look around. Shit happens all the time.
So, the point is, we have to stop giving in to the impulse to bury our heads in the sand like some kind of chicken ostrich (for those of you who haven't read it, that's an allusion to a particularly charming mixed metaphor from the novel), simply because it's more comfy not to pay any attention to all the really smart people who's spent years trying to determine if there's really a problem. They're telling us that there is. It's not a conspiracy. Why would we even suspect that it was? What would be the point? When people studying rivers in the NE and people studying penguin populations in Antarctica come to a convergence of conclusions with regard to climate shift, it's not because they've been exchanging emails containing collegial hints at how to hoax the public. Give me a break. You get in an airplane and let some anonymous pilot take your life into his hands, and you trust him; why don't you extend the same epistemic courtesy to these people?
Objections I've heard that sound plausible--sure, we've only been keeping records for a fraction of the time that we need to study in order to detect "for sure" patterns of climate change. Well, too bad Mr. Australopithicus had survival on his mind and didn't bother with commenting on the weather for posterity. But my point about epistemic humility holds here. Why would I--an expert in one small corner of academia--take it on myself to judge the interpretation of data in a field unfamiliar to me? Why wouldn't I instead trust people who've spent years training themselves to do just that? I couldn't even interpret my own ultrasound, for crying out loud!
All right, this started out a really reasonable post with a faint promise of becoming a nicely structured essay and devolved into sheer ranting. It must be the heat. But trust me, that's not really a comment on the weather.