Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Homework Assignment: An Ecology and Geology of Media

This semester I had a course where we read a lot and we tried to put our heads together to understand the connections between ecology and geology and media. From rocks to gardens, with more philosophical undertones and cultural debates between Hungarian and American approaches to the topic. Finally, most importantly, we pointed out that some of the texts are very much attached to the period they were written in; some, on the other hand, had correct predictions of the future, making the debate more interesting among us. And speaking of this modernity I decided to write about how we approach climate change in various fields, as the title suggests, from weather reports to literature.
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New Trends Attributed to Climate Change
From Weather Reports to Literature

            The significance of weather reports have change overwhelmingly since television started to devote whole channels to covering the weather from minute to minute. One would watch the news and afterwards see the weather report for the next day and accept whole heartedly whatever was told and did not, under any circumstance, get upset if the weather lady did not get it 100% right. Today, on the other hand, most people do not leave the house without checking the weather on their phones, for most it is on the home screen at all times, refreshing itself every time there is a slight change. And if one is told to take an umbrella, and then it does not rain, public outrage follows. The following essay will dissect how there is a tone of over-exaggeration when it comes to weather reports in the past years including an analysis of the phenome that climate change has turned into, ending in highlighting those trends that climate change is responsible for in the past decade.
            The contemporary man has decided that it wishes to control the one thing it never will: the weather. Recognizing that there is a sudden increase in being updated 24/7 demanded an appropriate response, and that came in the form of over exaggerations to enforce the idea that we are truly out of control. No matter what one uses to stay informed, there is, however an increase in weather reports being broadcasted in primetime television. One does not watch the news and then hears whether there will cloudy with a chance of rain, instead, they are bombarded with the information of something, let it be cold or hot, that is “record-breaking”. The reader might not be acquainted with this definition in the form of weather reports: the record is always checking the same day a year earlier, sometimes multiple years might be added (in case there is no significant change between 2014 and 2015, for example), and comparing whether or not the temperature has increased or decreased exponentially. One website in particular, Climate Signals, allows Americans to use “The Tracking Climate Change tool” as it provides “updates daily to offer a snapshot look at the US ratio between hot and cold temperature records as it stands for the period of the last 365 days”[1]. It says, to quote, that “in the past 365 days in the U.S. there were 2.98 high temperature records for every low temperature record”[2]. The need to be update includes the knowledge of comparison between previous years or simply the previous month.
The following examples highlight the change in jargon when discussing the weather. The first is a recent example, appeared on WBUR News’s website (covering the area of Boston), the article is entitled “Forecast: Record-Breaking Cold Possible Saturday”[3]. The order of words is remarkable: it first denotes that it will be “record-breaking”, then whether it is cold or hot, because it could be both, and then it emphasizes that it is just a possibility. That one small word erases the chance of angry comments, it also highlights that for the weather to be news, as in, news worthy of our time it has to be above all “record-breaking”, outstanding, unusual or all of the above. Within this same article the writer provides the report for the upcoming days as well, differentiating between Thursday and Thursday evening, pointing out there might be rain in the latter[4]. It would have been just as easy to include this information within the report of the first one, but for the sake of avoiding contradiction between a sunny afternoon and a rainy evening, they were kept separate. Second example is from the summer of 2017, more precisely in Australia. This example is outstanding as the cold weather swept through a big region and even resulted in snow in July. What is interesting to point out within the article, entitled “Record breaking cold weather hits Australia’s south east”, is one sentence: “[w]e were warned of a cold weekend and it certainly came to pass with widespread frost across inland areas”[5]. The use of the word “warned” recalls biblical proportions, highlighting that there was notice and nobody listened. Most have a difficult time believing weather reports, as it has been noted in this essay before, and this distrust is partly due to the average of precision provided. One is “warned” to avoid something, to remain vigilant of something, to be alert, and as the article highlights, these warnings were overlooked. This cold wave hit others, among them South America, which also reported it as “South America faces Record Breaking Cold Wave”[6]. One of the reasons it might have been overlooked is that “our warming climate, record highs have begun to outpace record lows, with the imbalance growing for the past three decades”[7]. Whatever the reasons, these articles keep highlighting that even if they accurately predict weather patterns, those are overlooked by the people.
            The average man is reduced to having a hard time choosing an outfit when leaving the home, but others need the weather reports because it has a direct impact on the work they do. A small blog entitled Mother of a Hubbard has an entry that describes how in 2014, despite the cold, the vegetables managed to survive. In the entry they write: “According to our closest National Weather Service office in Jackson, Kentucky, we’ve set a record for the number of times that temperatures have fallen to 0° F (-18 ° C) or below in the month of January”[8]. Immediately a few details stand out. First, there was a record set again, breaking a previous one; second, they are reliant on a Weather Service office, not just the daily app on their phones. The importance of being aware of the weather is not debated by this paper, nonetheless, the term “record-breaking” was embedded in the title of this simple blog entry as well, which entails that there is a new and somewhat mandatory jargon when it comes to reporting the changes in temperature. Another testament to this trend is an official article by NASA, which tried to be creative with the use of the same expression: “2016 Climate Trends Continue to Break Records”[9]. The article takes a much wider scope when comparing the apparent changes in weather, covering not just one or two years, but multiple decades. “NASA tracks temperature and sea ice as part of its effort to understand the Earth as a system and to understand how Earth is changing”[10], in this article in particular emphasizing the change in how the ice caps are melting, saying that “[o]peration IceBridge is a NASA airborne mission that has been flying multiple campaigns at both poles each year since 2009, with a goal of maintaining critical continuity of observations of sea ice and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica”[11]. Whether or not the news likes to exaggerate, there is a clear change that has to be addressed and major articles, like the latter example, describe the need to explain these variations in degrees.
At this point in the essay it is arguable that it is not solely our wish to know the weather at all times that fuels this new way of reporting. Many are not attached to the smart devices and many are content with listening to the radio once a day to see if they will need a sweater in the evening. What did, however, largely contribute to this over-exaggeration is climate change. While leaving office, in an interview given to The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, President Barack Obama said that “[the new administration] may change policy on climate change, but climate change is still climate change. It's still happening... reality doesn't go away”[12]. The urgency to compare and contrast the temperature change over the years is also fueled by the need to prove or debunk climate change. It is important to highlight that some are in the business of debunking it because of the misused lingo that introduced this exponential change in the weather: global warming. The Collins English dictionary defines it as “an increase in the average temperature worldwide believed to be caused by the greenhouse effect”[13]. Other definitions include a wider explanation, much closer to the definition of climate change, but since a lot of people were “cold”, among them high ranking American politicians that have, as Barack Obama pointed out, refused to acknowledge the “warning” and helped to spread misinformation over the past two decades, there was a need to change the terminology.
The birth of the new terminology then created new trends. Climate change has been evolving into a whole new discipline within literature. The most striking examples of climate change fiction can be found within the field of science-fiction. Nonetheless, climate change fiction or simply cli-fi has been the topic not only sci-fi authors like J. G. Ballard, Kim Stanley Robinson or Susan M Gaines, but other famous fiction writers like Ian McEwan, Barbara Kingsolver, Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson[14]. Climate change so far only yielded questions and answering those questions is a playground for most writers with infinite lines and no rules.  But the reason this could develop in the first place was due to the fact that abnormal changes in climate are devoted a kind of attention that was unprecedented as this essay has pointed out. A sudden rise in temperature or decrease is for some reason news worthy. And if it is worth writing about then it is good for fiction as well. Displacing human beings and forcing them into situations where the enemy is none other than the weather has been a growing trend for over a decades now, proof of such are disaster movies like The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Poseidon (2006) or Dante's Peak (1997) to name a few.
In conclusion, our attention to the weather cannot be disputed, what can is the need for the exaggeration that is emphasized by the way the weather is reported today. The only way people accept weather reports is with 100% accuracy, and this has been noted by most, seeking ways to be more on the point as they were before. With the appearance of calculable climate change the jargon itself has proven to change, and if it will evolve furthermore is up for debate. What is not, are the trends that are connected to the phenomenon of climate change, including movies and a growing number of readings, all collected under the new term of cli-fi.

Works Cited
Brook, Benedict. “Record Breaking Cold Weather Hits Australia’s South East.” News.Com.Au, 3 July 2017, www.news.com.au/technology/environment/record-breaking-cold-weather-hits-australias-south-east/news-story/50906eac539b4fa9303ae95302b7f36b. Accessed 19 Dec. 2017.
Climate Nexus. “Record High Temps vs. Record Low Temps.” Climate Signals Beta, 26 Sept. 2017, www.climatesignals.org/data/record-high-temps-vs-record-low-temps. Accessed 19 Dec. 2017.
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014. S.v. "global warming." Retrieved December 18 2017 from thefreedictionary.com/global+warming.
Epstein, David. “Forecast: Record-Breaking Cold Possible Saturday.” WBUR News, 9 Nov. 2017, www.wbur.org/news/2017/11/09/cold-saturday. Accessed 19 Dec. 2017.
Hille, Karl. “2016 Climate Trends Continue to Break Records.” NASA, NASA, 19 July 2016, www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/climate-trends-continue-to-break-records. Accessed 19 Dec. 2017.
Petrák, Fanni. “Ismétlődő emberiség − Jeanette Winterson evolúciós narratívái (Humanity Retold: Narratives of Extinction in Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods)”. A Szubjektum Színeváltozásai, 110-121, Americana 2017. PDF.
“South America Faces Record Breaking Cold Wave.” WeatherAction News, 17 July 2017, weatheraction.wordpress.com/2017/07/16/south-american-faces-record-breaking-cold-wave/.
“The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.” O'Neil, Chuck, director. Season 22, episode 36, Comedy Central, 12 Dec. 2016.
“The Garden Survives a Record-Breaking January.” Mother of a Hubbard, 31 Jan. 2014, www.motherofahubbard.com/garden-survives-record-cold/.

[1] Climate Nexus.
[2] Ibid.
[3] WBUR News, Dec 19. 2017.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Brook.
[6] “South America Faces Record Breaking Cold Wave.”
[7] Climate Nexus.
[8] “The Garden Survives a Record-Breaking January.”
[9] NASA, July 16, 2016.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] “The Daily Show”, Season 22, episode 36.
[13] Collins Dictionary.
[14] Petrák, 112.

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