Weather will always spur small talk

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 15, 2001

Small talk among small-town folks sooner or later turns to the local weather. &uot;Hot enough for you?&uot; and &uot;Boy, we’ve sure had some violent thunderstorms lately!&uot; are conversation openers as we chat on the street or in the grocery store.

On a much larger scale, environmentalists study the weather to gauge the planet’s health. In recent years, we read of earthquakes and flooding in places unaccustomed to those natural disasters and of wildfires erupting with deadly force.

On Tuesday a fire raced through a canyon in Washington state’s Cascade Mountains exploding as it sped, catching firefighters off guard and trapping and killing four people.

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In West Virginia, floods earlier in the week damaged or swept away at least 3,500 homes in the state’s coal-mining district. Environmentalists blame coal company practices of cutting away mountaintops and dumping rocks and dirt into the streams and valleys.

Global warming gets the blame for diminishing polar ice and melting snow on mountains such as the famed Kilimanjaro in Africa. Industries take the rap.

This week from a conference in Amsterdam, scientists who had gathered to share research about changes in climate and the environment issued another warning. Not only are we losing those ice caps and irreplaceable rain forests; we are losing a history of who we are.

As coral reefs disappear and ancient trees fall to the axe, with them go information scientists use to map a history of the Earth.

A scientist at the Amsterdam meeting referred to research in Tibet, where samples drilled in a glacier showed dust that provided clues to a six-year drought that began in 1790.

On Friday, President Bush met with the president of Costa Rica, Miguel Angel Rodriguez, to talk about a way to help save the rain forests in that country. The promising project would cost an estimated $54 million and would be deducted from the $250 million Costa Rica now owes the United States.

Some environmentalists have criticized Bush because he refuses to go along with the terms of the much-touted Kyoto Treaty. However, Bush has vowed to spur environmental initiatives of his own.

On Friday, Bush announced the first of his recommendations, including:

4Research conducted by NASA to look into the connection between the atmosphere and climate, providing accurate new scientific data about global warming.

4A partnership between the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Engergy Department to look into land use and forestry practices in Brazil and Belize.

4Also, a partnership between the Energy Department and energy companies to find new, cheaper technology for reducing carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuel combustion plants.

Will these or any other stepped-up efforts end global warming? Will freak quakes, fires and floods cease? Probably not. Should we continue to be concerned? Probably so.

One thing’s certain. Talk on street corners will still include, &uot;What about this strange weather we’re having?&uot;

Joan Gandy is special projects director at The Democrat. She can be reached at 445-3549; or by e-mail at