Weather in Fiction, and Sometimes as Fiction

From an article in The New Yorker about weather in human culture going from symbolic to scientific to almost non-existent to, finally, a combination (or collision) of symbolic and scientific:

Our earliest stories about the weather concerned beginnings and endings. What emerged from the cold and darkness of the void will return to it; waters that receded at the origin of the world will rise at its end. It is easy, in grim climatological times, to be drawn to the far pole of these visions. Weather has long been a handmaiden of the apocalypse, and the end of the world is so often presaged or effected by extreme climate shifts—floods, fires, freezing cold—that eschatology sometimes seems like a particularly dark branch of meteorology. Today, it is, if anything, even more difficult to imagine an end of the world that is not driven by a change in the weather. We speak of a “nuclear winter,” of the firestorms and the radical temperature drop that would follow an asteroid strike, of global climate change nudging planetary temperatures out of the range of the habitable.

But apocalyptic stories are ultimately escapist fantasies, even if no one escapes. End-times narratives offer the terrible resolution of ultimate destruction. Partial destruction, displacement, hunger, want, weakness, loss, need—these are more difficult stories. That is all the more reason we should be glad writers are beginning to tell them: to help us imagine not dying this way but living this way. To weather something is, after all, to survive.

On the climate-change front, I think very few people understand the difference between climate and weather, and that using the latter to highlight changes in the former is ultimately unproductive, as I previously wrote here and here. The aforementioned article couldn’t be better timed; it comes, of course, in the midst of the COP21 United Nations summit on climate change—which we all know will solve nothing. There’s actually a button to “follow the conference day after day” on their site—which couldn’t be more aptly designated, since I assume (not going to be reading the site, thankyouverymuch) that the whole thing is something of a Kafka-esque nightmare. But back to the point: climate change is the weakest argument against the destructive force of industrial capitalism, because it’s incomprehensible on human scales, it’s difficult to prove (and what is provable isn’t entirely motivating), and it puts all the blame on the people who have the least to do with causing the problem. Meanwhile, there are more urgent crises, like oil spills and pipelines, earthquakes in Oklahoma, 90% of the large fish in the ocean being gone, etc.


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