Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Senses of climate

(Your atmospheric colour atlas, by Olafur Eliasson)
It is often said that one of the problems with communicating climate change is that you cannot feel or see climate. Climate is, as scientists never cease to explain, the statistics of weather. This is, of course, a working definition for climate sciences. But is this the only one? Or are there other working definitions imaginable, let's say for cultural sciences, for poetry, for art, for literature, or for history? Isn't  it also possible to "sense" climate, to experience it, to feel it, to touch it? 
Wikipedia says:

"Climate encompasses the statistics of temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, rainfall, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological elemental measurements in a given region over long periods. Climate can be contrasted to weather, which is the present condition of these elements and their variations over shorter periods."
Now it's vacation time, and some of us temporarily change climate zones. When you come from Germany and leave the airplane in a subtropical region, you indeed experience "climate" and not only weather. And you will do so as long as you stay. Your senses know that there won't be any German weather as long as you stay. Everything, atmospheric pressure, the light, the sky, humidity will tell you that this is a different climate - independent of the current weather, if rain or shine.

This is just one example. When you lay down on your back and look at the sky, it's not only weather you see. You indeed can see and feel humidity, atmosphere, light, clouds, and "space" - which is, according to wikipedia, the present condition of weather,  but it is not "weather" you see.

In English there is the expression of "climate envelope". We live inside an envelope, which is something different from weather. Seen from this perspective, climate indeed is more than statistics only; it is something which is alive, almost visible, something you can feel or sense.
I know, this is a real non-natural-science question, and I risk my reputation in asking this, but here it is: Can we feel climate? Can we add examples of "senses of climate" to the "statistics of weather"? Does it make sense to say that the separation of climate from experience is nothing but another attempt to solve a problem (here: climate change) exclusively via technology and (social) engineering?
 (Feelings are facts, Olafur Eliasson)

18 comments:

Martin Heimann said...

Excellent post! This is why in a popular talk it is much more powerful to illustrate climate change with geographical dislocations: E.g. a BAU scenario can be illustrated by moving Munich to Verona, or the summer of 2003 effectively moved Zurich to Bari in southern Italy.

Perhaps one way to characterize climate is indeed to use popular travel destinations? Traditional climate classification proceeds by grouping similar weather element statistics to some more general climate "classes" which are then given pretty drab names like "Subtropische Trocken- und Passatzone" (Flohn, 1950) or "BSk Steppenklima" (Köppen) or boring climate diagrams. In my climatology class the most boring lecture is when I have to convey such classification systems to the students. Next time I will turn this around and try to classify the climate with travel destinations. In the modern world with global travel, the "climate" of Singapore is much more telling than some dusty formal climate classifications.

Maybe your "climate envelope" could indeed by characterized by a selected set popular geographical locations. This would be very " illustrative, although potential non-climate cultural biases (e.g. food, lifestyle, personal experiences) might blur the picture...

Hans von Storch said...

I do not claim "climate can not be sensed". The issue is climate change. Your example demonstrates that you can along a path in space. In this way, climate was detected, I guess. But how would you detect climate change without moving, by staying at the same site?

Martin, climate of Singapore - a very good example of a case of climate, which was previously linked to depression because of unbearable warmth, which is now totally "overcome". The "climate" is physically unchanged (apart of climate change possibly), but it is sensed totally different. Not only because of inside/outside. British officers do not need to travel regularly home for recovery from the dreadful climate ...
The sensed climate has dramatically changed in Singapore.

Hans von Storch said...

Martin: der Illustration "Flensburg wird klimamässig wie Basel" fehlt eine entscheidende Dimension in der bisher gängigen Klimakommunikation - die Schreckensdimension.

Werner Krauss said...

@Martin Heimann
you write
"although potential non-climate cultural biases (e.g. food, lifestyle, personal experiences) might blur the picture..."

My intervention is the other way round: there is no climate beyond experiences. While the scientific separation of climate from experiences is useful to demonstrate the existence of anthropogenic climate change, in everyday reality climate doesn't exist outside of our experiences and activities. Strangely enough, this is exactly what climate science teaches us: our life is inseparable from climate, and what we do influences climate - use of fossil fuel, food production, lifestyles etc.

Thus, "sensing climate" is more than only illustrating scientific results. Climate is more than a travel anecdote, a temporary colonial experience, a topic for everyday talk or a metaphor; science has opened the climate box, and we indeed have to find out how that feels to live inside a climate envelope.

Instead of separating ourselves from our food production, from our use of resources, from our technologies etc, we have to become connected to those activities.
Without feelings we cannot connect nor take care of something. That's why feelings are facts we have to count with.

By the way, the beautiful word "atmosphere" carries all these connotations, from being a scientific term to the atmosphere in a dance hall or between people. None of these connotations are wrong or unnecessary; none should be prioritized. They all make up the atmospheres of democracy - and in times of climate change, we have to bring climate back into democracy.

Reiner Grundmann said...

Werner, there is of course bio-weather ("Biowetter"), something very special to German weather forecasts.
Here is a quote from a Spiegel online article of 2006:
Feeling Unwell?
It Must Be the Biowetter


In the minds of some Germans, the weather is responsible for all that ails humans. Here, people are as obsessive about their "Bio-Weather" reports as they are their horoscopes.

There is a brief discussion about the scientific merits of such a concept. Maybe other Klimazwiebel readers know more?

http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,411008,00.html

Werner Krauss said...

Rainer, sorry for asking, but further explanation is needed! Why exactly did you post this comment? I am afraid I don't get the point without further help.

Reiner Grundmann said...

"Biowetter" is an example of claims to direct experience of climate/weather.
When you say "we indeed have to find out how that feels to live inside a climate envelope" I suggest to look at this example.

Werner Krauss said...

I get that, Rainer. I try to look at "Biowetter", but all I see is a spiegel online article from 2006, which serves to support national stereotypes during the soccer World Cup. Concerning the 'brief discussion of the merits of such a concept', the same mechanism serves to differentiate between stupid folk belief on the one hand (hocus pocus) and science on the other - exemplified by Kachelmann, 'Germany's leading meteorologist'. Ooops. That's what I call a junk article to fill the website.

But indeed, Biowetter is an interesting topic. I think all cultures have their national obsessions with weather, such as the British (the weather gets worse, parallel to the decline of the Empire); California (El Nino, desasters and the Hollywood ecology of fear); Bavaria (the Föhn, Ludwig II and Schädelweh) or Hans' Denmark (there have been worse summers before :-)).

The same might be true for (scientific) narratives about climate change; as we already discussed several times, they also follow those (mostly unconscious) national narrative structures. That's why we learn from scientific discussions about climate change as much about the respective nationalities (and the social status of the scientist) as about weather / climate.

How would a cosmopolitan experience or expression of weather / climate look like? The IPCC is an attempt for such a "transnational" perception. We see how difficult that is...

There are maybe more similarities between the 'folk belief' Biowetter and scientific meteorology / climatology than differences. Both direct experience and objective scientific observation are easily caught by the same (national) narrative structures. It takes a Kachelmann to make the difference (hocus pocus! he says, and, magic: here folk belief, here science!).

What is 'direct experience', what is only discourse? Maybe Eliasson's personal atmospheric colour atlas is of help. At least, it might help to brighten up this rainy August day in Hamburg. Of course, I don't believe in Biowetter; instead, I am a man of science! It's only that this damned Nordic summer leaves me totally depressed -:)

Hans von Storch said...

Hans' Denmark - I am presently studying "Husest på Christianshavn", an 84-part series on life in København in the 1970s. Weather is not a relevant issue in this series (have watched 32 so far) - so I would say: no real weather narrative here.

Werner Krauss said...

that's because in Denmark there is no such thing as bad weather, only wrong clothes.

Hans von Storch said...

People have here an interesting construct, named "Danish summer", which means weather of all type, sun shine, rain, wind, no rain, no wind, no sunshine ...

Hannah said...

I cannot believe that you are watching “Huset paa Christianshavn”!!! I used to love that series when I was a child (go for “Matador” once you have finished watching “Huset paa Christianshavn”) and spot on with “Danish summer” and “no such thing as bad weather, only wrong clothes”. I personally love walking in the rain. The English don't quite get it....I had no idea Danes, including me, were such clichés! :o)

Hans von Storch said...

Sorry for the others, just a little more personal intermezzo:

Hannah, måske ikke et emne for diskussion her på zwiebelet, men: - vi har set Matadoren allerede to gange, og bestemt vil vi gør det igen ("det er en tysker ..."). Faktisk bedre en Huset pC. Men det fortaler noget om kongeriget, ikke sandt?

Hannah said...

Hans, dit danske er meget imponerende! Her i London har de alle sammen lige set “The killing” med Sofie Graaboel og vil vide om jeg ogsaa havde saadan en islansk sweater da jeg var lille. Beklageligvis er svaret “ja” ;o)

Werner Krauss said...

Altid vådt vejr i The Killing. Danske vejr.

Hannah said...

I am just back from recreating some of the more idyllic moments of my own childhood’s summers in Denmark for my daughters (endless days spent collecting shells at the beach, walking barefoot through a quiet pine tree forest, sitting by the fire, wrapped in a blanket, and eating severely burnt bread :o) Hans, det var en typisk dansk sommer. Vaad. Any way, along the way I stopped by ARoS in Aarhus where I am originally from to see Eliasson’s “Rainbow” and it turned out that there was in fact an entire exhibition by Eliasson including “Your atmospheric colour atlas”! Werner, it is amazing. My daughter described it as “being in a cloud full of rainbows”. A friend said that for him one of the most interesting things were the fact that he became acutely aware of other people’s presence in the room. I have been trying to pin it down (it really has to be experienced) but it is difficult. Interestingly I reckon that I came across one of the most fitting descriptions in the preface written by a guy called Kristian Ditlev Jensen to a book about the new Nordic food movement. It is too long to translate but basically he talks about the concept of “nydelse”, one of those Danish words (like “hygge”) that are difficult to translate but I guess it amounts to “pleasure” with extra joy and happiness added to it :o) He says that “nydelse” is to be fully present in an intense moment, to be in contact with your surroundings in a fully aware way rather than just rush through life without reflecting at all, to pause in the moment and be part of it. To “feel” the world intensely, if you like, be it in relation to food, art or indeed climate…:o) I found this old review which sort of reinforce the point I am trying to make here: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/eating_out/a_a_gill/article6964862.ece

Werner Krauss said...

Great report, Hannah! This makes you an honorary climate anthropologist! Thanks a lot; I'll think about it. Should make a trip to Aarhus, too.

Hannah said...

Thanks. “Honorary climate anthropologist”…. it sure has a certain ring to it ;o) The exhibition runs until December and is well worth a visit. There is another outstanding piece called “Beauty” (think one of those days were it rains, while at the same time the sun shines “Sommerregn” :o)