I’m pretty sure the earth’s climate is changing, and that human activity is a major cause. I’m not sure of everything I can or should be doing to reduce my personal impact, and/or to pressure relevant public and private officials to reduce our collective human impact. My direct observations of climate include having lived in many different parts of the globe.
The weather and climate of southern California, where I recently moved, are still pretty much a mystery to me. Longer-term locals have told me, “it never rains between May and November.” Since I moved here in May 2021, we’ve had thunderstorms in July and two substantial rainfalls in October. It IS a lot drier than where I previously lived on the U.S. East Coast, but not as dry as the year I lived in far northwestern China.
That year, there was a total of less than an inch of precipitation, including a smallish dusting of snow in late November that lingered well into February. I was teaching oral English to students at a “desert reclamation university.” In early spring, a team of agricultural experts from the Texas A&M system in the U.S. came for a week to both teach and observe. At one of their feature presentations, held in lieu of regular classes, I sat at the back of the auditorium to watch. A professor of soil science was giving an illustrated talk about the use of native grasses in his part of Texas to reduce erosion during “extreme rain events.” I could tell that some of the students I taught were having difficulty with the English. Mostly they were having difficulty with the concept of extreme rain events. Finally, one student gathered his courage and raised his hand. The professor called on him. I don’t remember the student’s exact English, which was probably somewhat basic, but he got the point across:
“Your slides and information are quite impressive,” the student began. “But they do not fit our situation here very well,” he continued. “You see, we do not have extreme rain events in this part of Xinjiang.”
Perhaps the climate where I lived previously that most closely matched what I’ve experienced here so far was in a small city on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in east central Africa. The climate there was tropical, but with a “long dry season” that typically extended from early May until late September or October. By the time the “short rainy season” was about to begin, the ground had gotten parched. In some years, before the full set of rains began, there were a couple of intervals when we had brief showers—enough to get wet under the trees, but not enough to run off. Locals called these showers “la pluie des vaches” (“cow rains”). Historically, the majority of the population had been pastoralists. These early rains were just enough to begin greening up the pastures. The cattle would finally get some fresh grass, rather than the dry rations they’d been on before any rains.
Our first October rain was sort of like a cow rain, though there are not any cows anywhere near the suburban enclave where I live. The following morning, I noticed land snails on the wettish sidewalks—a “pluie des escargots”? After a few hours, the sidewalks dried and the snails disappeared. A few days later, the nearby canyons did sport a stubble of greenery, maybe enough for a snack for the area’s wild deer.
The second rain was more extensive, creating small gullies on some of the canyon trails, soaking into grassy street verges in ways that our paltry irrigation systems do not match. This time, the deer-food stubble was somewhat more extensive, plus some of the street edges began showing a good growth of mushrooms, which lingered. I’ve christened this year’s second storm a mushroom rain, a southern California “pluie des champignons.”