Jordan Journal: Weather vs. Climate
Welcome to Jordan—specifically, Peace Wadi, a farm on the border from the West Bank: eight miles from the Dead Sea, even closer to Jericho. The temperature right now (it is 11:07 AM as I write) is 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and that is cool. Since our arrival, it has reached up to 110 and 115 degrees. “This is not normal,” said my cousin, who lives in Amman (which is significantly cooler than our current location), “this is a heat wave.”
It is fair to assume that the culprit for this blistering heat wave is human-created climate change. Farther east, in Iran, the temperature has recently reached 129 degrees. On a grander scale, parts of the Middle East and North Africa may be “uninhabitable” before the end of the century.
Understandably, however, there is considerable objection to the conflation of weather—individual temperatures on a given day—and climate—the overall trend of temperatures in an area or globally. Simply put, weather is hard to definitively link to manmade climate change, while with climate it is far easier. If we begin to attribute hot temperatures to manmade climate change, then what is preventing so-called “skeptics” from using cold temperatures as evidence for their coal-funded myths?
And yet, there is a problem with ignoring the weather. We can talk about each year as the “hottest year on record”; we can track the melting of the Arctic; we can prove that greenhouse gases have a warming effect on the atmosphere. But this is distant, cold, and scientific. Unless we are able to tie in the effects of climate change to the human experience—in other words, weather—we will never be able to shift the conversation from one of environmentalism to one of humanitarianism.
The hot weather in Jordan means we spend about sixty percent of the workday—which would otherwise be used picking dates and weeding bushes—inside. The impossible heat slows productivity and stalls the Jordanian economy. Unable to produce their own goods, Jordan relies heavily on USAID and other programs (the US has planned $1 billion dollars in assistance to Jordan for FY 2017). Despite being one of the most developed countries in the region, one-third of the Jordanian population lives in poverty at some point in their lives.
The effects are more than just economic—they are violent. As I’m sure you know, Jordan’s next-door neighbor, Syria, has been embroiled in a deadly war for six years now. It has sparked regional unrest, including a refugee crisis unlike any seen before. The basic story of the war is often told as if it was any other Arab Spring revolution, but it turned violent due to the unprecedented brutality of the Assad regime. And though this has truth to it, the real cause of the war was a severe drought that sparked the displacement of farmers and the resulting overcrowding and underfunding of Syria’s urban areas.
It is an overgeneralization to say it is impossible to link these events to climate change. But the scientific consensus overwhelmingly tells us that we should focus on climate rather than weather in assessing the greenhouse gas effect. Unfortunately, this runs the risk of dehumanizing and alienating the problem, which in turn makes us complacent in the face of ecocide. Part of the solution to global warming, then, might be a surprise: we need to be less scientific.