(One day late again – this is becoming annoying!)
The human race probably evolved language for the single purpose of being able to discuss the weather. It’s one of the first things that people learn about when learning a foreign language. Obviously, when language had been evolved, the human race found other uses for the facility.
Weather would have been very important for early man, as it would be next to impossible to hunt animals in a downpour as rain washes out tracks and scents and makes the task of getting from point A to point B difficult in itself. Heavy rain cuts off hunters from possible hunting grounds.
Visibility is also reduced by rain making location and tracking of prey difficult. Also, prey hunkers down in inclement weather, hiding away in inaccessible dens, or perching in inaccessible trees.
When early man developed techniques of agriculture, he would have been aware that his crops were dependant on the weather. Too much rain might cause the crops to rot in the ground or not develop properly, while too little rain (and more sun) would dry out and kill the crops and prevent them from fruiting.
The early farmer would have had to consider carefully where to plant his crops. It would not be a good idea to plant crops in area prone to flooding (unless the plant, like rice needs flooding, during its development). It would also not be a good idea to plant the crops too far from water, so that watering them would not be too onerous.
Being able to predict the weather would enable the early farmer to take actions to look after his crops. The ancient Egyptians, one of the first societies of whose agriculture we have some knowledge, lived in the Nile basin and took advantage of the annual floods, and developed a complex system of irrigation. This led the Egyptians to develop mathematics, astronomy, and other sciences in order to predict when the floods were likely to happen.
Arguably the need to predict the weather had a lot to do with the fact that the Egyptians developed civilisation in the first place. Arguably the rise of civilisation goes hand in hand with such developments of science and technology.
Predicting the Nile floods is prediction of the weather on a long time scale, and it is likely that the floods could be a little earlier or a little later than predictions. Such large scale weather patterns are both easier and harder to predict than smaller scale weather patterns, because the floods would come sooner or later in most years, but the extent of the floods would likely vary from year to year.
Since the exact timing of the floods and the extent of the flooding was not predictable, it was almost inevitable that the ancient Egyptians looked for supernatural guidance, and religion became associated with agriculture, and this appears to be a general rule. In a culture, supernatural beings, gods, are associated with agriculture, often a pantheon of them.
As part of the tasks associated with agriculture, the gods were considered to be responsible for the weather both short and long term. Interestingly while the gods were supposed to be responsible for the weather, this did not stop enquiring minds looking for the mechanisms of the weather, how the gods worked, so to speak.
We know a great deal more about the weather and how it happens, now. Science has moved on a great deal and we have discovered more and more about how the gods create and manage the weather, to the extent that we have taken the task away from them and given it to the scientists. I’m not debating religion per se, but some people think that we have taken everything away from the gods, removing their very necessity of being.
If forced into a corner and asked for my opinion, I’d probably agree, but there is something comforting to many people in the concept of gods or a God, and billions of people express a belief in a deity or deities, or some other supernatural influence. This may be something that we will leave behind as the human race matures, we can’t tell. It may be that science, with its laws, theories and predictions is just the latest in a succession of descriptions of the world, and may itself be ultimately seen as a simple rationalisation of what we see around us.
It appears that the weather is getting wilder. Scorching temperatures are measured in some places, while other places are in the grip of freezing temperatures. Storms are continually being labelled the biggest in so many years. Flood protection schemes are being overwhelmed. Crippling droughts have hit many countries and ice is reportedly retreating in the Arctic and Antarctic.
This is, for good reasons, labelled global warming and the temperatures do seem to be rising all over the globe. I’m aware that controversy surrounds the whole topic, with allegations of bad science, conspiracy, and manipulation of data on both sides of the “debate”.
The trouble with the global warming discussion is around the time scales involved and the rates of temperature rise. The period of time when we have reliable temperature measurements doesn’t go back very far, and the temperature rise is small and difficult to measure.
Those opposed to the idea of global warming point out that while measured temperatures may have risen slightly, if there is any rise it could be explained by natural changes unrelated to human activities, such as variations in the output of the sun, and that in any case, the data is insufficient to show any upward trend at all.
Those in favour of the idea, counter that with the claim that the temperature rise is real and that the fact that it has risen in such a short time is a concern, and that action is essential.
It may never be formally decided. As we get better at predicting the weather it may turn out that the models which fit the data may solve the problem, and that one or the other side in the debate will fade away. As in the debate on evolution, the opposition to which gradually faded in favour of Darwin’s theories as time passed, I believe the same is likely to happen in the global warming debate.