Not so long ago, talking about the weather was a pleasant ice-breaker of a topic. We could all complain about it, amiably. It was a 'three little bears' kind of a conversation starter. We could commiserate with each other when it was too hot or too cold and revel in those few days every year when everything was just right. It was a sure-fire way to begin a conversation with a friend or stranger without venturing into those twin no-no areas of politics and religion.
Well, just as politics and religion have become increasingly polarized, so has the weather. All three of those subjects are now fighting words. What pushed the weather past the edge of polite conversation was the very idea of global warming. Weather and climate change became interchangeable terms. Was climate change a real, genuine threat or just some silly scam developed by some con artists? People started to choose sides.
The trouble, though, was if you stood on one side of the debate, you were considered a fool by people on the other side. Go too far into the discussion and someone was liable to throw down the gauntlet and challenge you to firearms at 20 paces.
To clarify, by the way, the definition of the weather is what's going on outside today. It's the climate and the specter of global warming that we're really discussing - the long term atmospheric conditions and how they might change from year-to-year, decade-to-decade.
Finding someone who will talk calmly about whether or not global warming is real and the possible effect on the climate is almost impossible. Every time I write about it, I get comments from people who become desk-tipping, door-slamming, crazy enraged, no matter how neutral I try to be. You are either for it or against it, there does not seem to be space for a middle ground.
With that in mind, I noticed that Gene Hall, the ever erudite public face of the Texas Farm Bureau, was trying to occupy some sensible position. Yes, he has doubts about whether or not global warming is real but he's willing to watch the science develop. He's also concerned about the impact of jumping to conclusions too quickly and writing rules and regs that might have a negative effect on farmers and ranchers.
He has a good point, of course. There is no human pursuit with a more vested interest in today's weather report and the long term effects of climate change than agriculture. If you till the soil or raise livestock, good weather can make life wonderful; bad weather can destroy your bank account. A drastically altered climate is unthinkable.