October 28, 2007

No, We Didn't Do That

Tom Friedman is a great writer. When my son bought me The World is Flat, Friedman’s masterpiece book, I was in awe of his insight and rare ability to put things in a context that we lay people can understand. The book helped me – and so many other folks – understand that we really are in a global economy, so we’d better get with the program!

But now comes his New York Times column “
Did We Do That?” in which he thankfully stops short of answering “yes,” that we humans are responsible for the crappy weather that Friedman believes is occurring more frequently.

“I’d never seen that before,” he noted after seeing the “wild and prehistoric” smoke billowing out of mountain caverns from the expansive fires of southern California.

The day before, after playing golf in Washington, D.C. and observing the lack of fall colors, Friedman was moved to write…… “I’d never seen that before.”

I think Tom leads a sheltered life. To be sure, these massive fires are, thankfully, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most folks. But chasers of beautiful fall colors have often been disappointed with their findings, long before we knew about carbon emissions.

“One should never extrapolate about climate change from any single weather event or season…” writes Friedman, and then he promptly joins the fray of doomsdayers who genuinely believe that mankind is singlehandedly going to hell – or rather creating it – right here on earth.

Thankfully, his column moves to a criticism about man’s inability to create good infrastructure – like levees that could have better protected New Orleans during hurricane Katrina. Now that’s a line of thinking that makes sense.

Let me offer an answer to the question posed in Friedman’s column. "No, we didn’t do that.” Oh, we may have unwisely contributed to it in an immeasurably miniscule way, but that contribution pales in the face of what Mother Nature can and does introduce into our environment. Not that we shouldn’t clean up our act and be friendlier to our environment, but let’s please not overestimate the impact that we humans have on the cosmos.

I applaud Friedman for introducing us to Dr. Heidi Cullen’s notion that people need to get more focused on an infrastructure suffering from a “creaky power grid or leaky water pipe.” That’s something we really can impact – big time.

In the meantime, if Tom Friedman won’t suggest that we humans are a primary cause of record high and low temperatures, we South Dakotans won’t claim responsibility for the beautiful Indian summer we’re enjoying.

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