This diary was first published in February, 2010. This was the first ‘walking the dog’ diary I wrote. It’s topical again so I decided to repost it.
Walking the dog is, in some ways, very similar to being a mailman. Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet… Well, maybe not quite the same. Rain and sleet will keep me indoors. Snow, on the other hand, is not a problem for someone born and bred in the north country. It’s not a problem for my buddy Al, either.
Al has some Husky in him. It shows in his brilliant blue eyes and his thick undercoat. He’ll romp in the snow for hours without showing the slightest discomfort. At least, he used to when he was younger. Nowadays, he’s more like me. A slow, rambling walk is good enough. Even when we have 8″ of fresh snow like we had this day.
Al and I may not mind the cold, but I can’t say the same for someone who’s lived in the South his entire life. That’s why I was surprised to see our new neighbor watching for us from his front window as we walked by. Beauregard T. ‘Beau’ ________, recently moved here from Oxford, Mississippi, the adopted hometown of William Faulkner and John Grisham.
Beau is a bit out of his element here in the North. Oxford, home of the University of Mississippi, is not exactly a liberal area. Beau is not exactly a liberal either. He’s found it a bit difficult to fit in up here, which is, I think, one reason he’s latched on to me and Al. Most days, he watches for us to walk by so he can join us for our daily stroll. Those walks have proven educational for both of us.
It would be difficult to find two more dissimilar people walking together. About all we have in common are the facts that we are both white males, born in the USA, and, arguably, speak the same language. I am a liberal agnostic from the north woods, while Beau is a conservative Christian from the deep South. I get most of my news from reading a wide variety of sources. Beau gets his from listening to Rush Limbaugh. Needless to say, our political views don’t match up very well.
Our conversations are usually initiated by Beau. He probably gets tired of silence, since he lives alone. The topic is usually about something Rush said on his radio show or, occasionally, something Beau found on the Drudge Report. Today’s conversation was typical.
Beau started in before we’d walked five feet, “Lot’s of snow t’day.”
I looked around at the clean, white landscape and said, “A bit.”
Beau gave an exaggerated shiver before saying, “Purty cold, too.”
I had been thinking that it was a rather nice day for February, but gave a tempered response, “Mite chilly.”
He thought about that for a moment and then said, “Hey, did you hear about that big snowstorm in D.C.?”
I knew instantly where he was going, but decided to let him have some fun, so I replied simply, “Heard about it.”
That’s all the encouragement Beau needed, “I was reading about it on Drudge. Sure makes Al Gore look silly.”
I decided to play along, “How so?”
“Well, Gore’s alus talkin’ about this Global Warmin’ nonsense and now there’s 6 foot of snow in Washin’ton. Rush was really makin’ fun of him t’day.”
It was obvious Beau was trying to bait me, as usual, and, as usual, he got more than he bargained for.
“I wonder what part of ‘Global Warming’ Rush doesn’t get?”
All Beau could manage for a reply was, “Huh?”
I went on, “Well, you and I know there’s a difference between weather and climate, but it doesn’t sound like Rush understands that.”
His reply came while I was watching Al sniff around a juniper bush with rabbit tracks leading to and from it, so I didn’t see his face, but his reply and the tone of his voice gave me a perfect idea of how it looked.
“Uh… uh… yeah… of course.”
We watched silently until Al was satisfied there was no rabbit under the bush. I picked up the conversation as we moved on. I kept my tone neutral as I said, “It’s possible Rush is a little misinformed on this subject,”
Beau wasn’t about to let even mild criticism of Rush slide by without challenge, “He sure seems ta know what he’s talkin’ ’bout.”
I was spared answering immediately, because I had to give my attention to Al. He was tugging at the leash, as he always did when we approached the opening to the trail that leads down to the small lake near our homes. I paused to unclip the leash and watched as he bounded away into the woods to see what fresh scents he could find.
As we resumed walking, I said, “There are two things Rush doesn’t understand about Global Warming.”
Beau gave me a puzzled look and asked, “What’s that?”
“Well, Rush doesn’t understand either ‘Global’ or ‘Warming’.”
“Oh, now you’re just tryin’ ta be funny.”
“No,” I replied. “I’m being perfectly serious. The issue is ‘global’, as in the whole world. What happens in one small area is almost meaningless. What matters is what is happening to the whole world.”
Beau thought about that for a moment and then said, “I hadn’t thought about that. It’s a good point.”
He quickly disabused me of any thought that I was going to get off that easy. We had barely taken two steps before he blurted out, “But, this was Washin’ton DC!”
We reached the shore of the lake at that moment. I took some time to take in the winter beauty before answering. The scene looked like a picture postcard. The recent snow had been light and fluffy. It had piled up on even the smallest branches on the leafless oaks and maples that surround the lake. The only color in the scene was the dark green of the conifers interspersed amongst the bare trees. The flat surface of the lake had that perfect, clean look that only new snow can bring. It is something that has to be seen to be appreciated. Beau still marveled over it every time it snowed.
After standing quietly for a while as we took in the view, I continued with my reply, “It’s still a local event. And, it’s also perfectly foreseeable. There is a very strong El Niño effect this winter. A strong El Niño pushes cold air further south across North America. Last year we had a weaker El Niño. It was in the 60’s in Michigan last February.”
He made as if to say something then paused when I held up a finger to indicate I had more to say.
“But that’s neither here nor there,” I went on. “I was talking about this being a global issue, It’s been a colder winter than usual in parts of the Northern Hemisphere. It’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere and it’s been a lot hotter than normal. Did you know that, globally, this was the warmest January in the last 32 years according to satellite readings? That was reported on the web site of a scientist that is a skeptic when it comes to global warming.”
Al had wandered off as we stood looking at the snow-covered landscape. I whistled for him and then turned towards the path home. Beau paused for one last look at the lake and then turned to accompany me. Al came to my side for a pat when he caught up with us and then resumed his exploration of the woods along the trail.
The snow deadened sound, including our footsteps. We walked on in silence for a few steps. Beau was still fascinated by deep snow. He scuffed through unbroken snow like a kid rather than walking in the footsteps he’d left coming to the lake.
The silence stretched until finally he said, “Okay, I see what you mean about global.”
I’d been watching Al as we walked and talked and noticed him suddenly bury his nose in the snow. He paused for a second, obviously sniffing, and then started pushing snow with his snout as he followed some scent. For a moment, I pictured a small brown field mouse burrowing under the snow. Then I turned to Beau. The look on his face told m
e he still wasn’t convinced by my argument.
“We’re talking about 10 foot of snow in Washin’ton DC!”
The tracks we had left on our outward-bound trip were the only things that marred the pure white surface of the trail. I looked down at them as we walked and said, “Now we come to the second part of Global Warming.”
Al trotted out of the woods a few yards short of where the trail met the road back to the house. He waited for us to catch up so I could put him back on the leash for the rest of the walk. Beau waited as I put Al on the leash. As I straightened up I said, “If Rush understood ‘Warming’ then he’d know that one of the effects of warming is an increase in water vapor. More water vapor means more rain and snow.”
Beau didn’t get a chance to reply before I said, “This gets us into feedback loops. Not only does warming cause an increase in precipitation, it also speeds up warming, because water vapor traps more heat. It’s a double-whammy.”
I gave Beau a few moments to think that over and then said, “Another thing Rush doesn’t seem to understand about the significance of this storm is that climate is the long term trend of weather, whereas weather is, well, something like a single snowstorm.”
We walked the rest of the way in silence. We were nearly to Beau’s house before he said, “This is more complicated than I thought.”
I could sense that I was making him think. I was determined not to lose what little ground I’d gained so I chose my words with caution before saying, “I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no expert on this. I know I need to learn more. But, I’ve learned enough to wonder if, maybe, just maybe, Rush is wrong on this one. I’ve never met a person who was right on everything. Maybe he’s getting the wrong information on this one.”
We stopped walking when we reached his driveway. Al looked at me and then leaned towards the house as a sign that he was ready to go home and lay in front of the fireplace. Beau glanced at Al and then said, “Maybe.”
I nodded once at Beau’s evident open mindedness then turned towards home before I said, “I’ll send you some links so you can read up on some of this yourself.”
“Ok, I’ll keep an eye open for them. See yah tomorrow.”
As I walked away, I managed not to shake my head in resignation at the thought that my quiet walks with Al were at an end. More Rush undoubtedly lay in my future.
Oh, well, spring will be here soon. It’s bound to rain some days.
From: John [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Sunday, February 11, 2010 8:05 PM
Subject: Global Warming links
Here are those links I promised you. The first one is to a site set up by the National Science Foundation. The Wikipidea page shouldn’t be taken as authoritative, since anyone can edit it, but it should have plenty of links to other sources.
Let me know if you learn anything interesting,