From weather chat to climate change

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March 29, 2014 | 4:32 am

It’s a cliche, but it’s true: We Midwesterners sure like talking about the weather.

And why not? It’s not only the constant variation (run out of things to say about humidity? Wait a week and we’ll be talking about how dry it’s been), and vital importance to our rural economy, the subject also plays to our strengths.

Chatting about weather levels the field. Anyone can play. You can ante up with wisdom from your grandparents, share what you heard on the Weather Channel or just make your own observations (“Boy, it’s like an oven out there”). You can spout predictions without being confrontational and end disagreements with a smile and a shrug. We’ll get what we get, after all. You can’t control the weather.

And I guess that’s why what should be a breezy transition to talking climate change instead has been so fraught and frustrating: So many of those old rules don’t apply.

Grandpa’s wisdom doesn’t help understand the global change that we’re experiencing; our up-close experiences with oddball weather events can blind us to the larger patterns. Looking at climate — the long-term, broad-strokes patterns as opposed to weather conditions from season to season or week to week — destroys that level playing field. Everybody’s input isn’t equal. We can’t all just shake hands while exchanging old peacekeeping adages about Mother Nature and agree to disagree.

That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about climate change unless we’ve got a briefcase full of scientific degrees. In fact, it means we should. But first, we’ve got to do a little homework. Here’s one opportunity that crossed my desk:

Throughout this month, Cedar Rapids Climate Advocates and Christ Episcopal Church are sponsoring free readings and discussions of different parts of the current climate change debate, using Sen. Rob Hogg’s recently published book as a guide. The first event, “Politics and Climate,” will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Blue Strawberry, 118 Second St. SE, Cedar Rapids. For information, contact Charles Crawley at or Cheryl Valenta at

As Iowans, we should be naturals at discussing climate change. Who loves to talk about this stuff more than we do? But it’s too important for idle chatter. It demands that we get a firmer understanding of what scientists know, and don’t know, about where we’re heading and how to soften the blow.

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