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Connecting ”strange weather“ to the climate crisis

Landscape on Gotland
Axel Lindman, Collection of the National museum in Sweden. XLM.08443

Daniel Urey is co-founder and director of LABLAB, a think tank dedicated to the environmental and social aspects of spatial change in the North and Baltic Sea region. He explains why weather, cloud services and landscapes appear to us as interlinked and why we should be aware of the connection between climate crisis and weather data like weather forecasting.

Documenting and reflecting about weather is a behavior that drastically has changed in the latest centuries. Through the historical images we are able to see how painters have been engaged in illustrating weather through dramatic clouds. Most of these dramatic weather illustrations were although not communicating the actual weather of that time, but rather adding a symbolic value to the weather. A dark sky was not ”bad” weather but rather doomsday or a reminder of committed sins.

But with the enlightenment and science as a counter narrative towards the religious understanding of nature, weather became a scientific matter to be classified as any other natural element under the rule of human. Clouds became Cumulus, Stratus, Cirrus, Nimbus, etc… The science of weather forecasting was born!

WEATHER DATA AND FRAGILE SYSTEMS

Today our conversations about the weather are much more complicated since they are embedded in the consequences of climate crisis, a growing weather forecasting industry and the accumulation of weather data that requires more and more physical storage, also known as ”cloud services”. These cloud services, a kind of technological trompe-l’œil, needs to  be understood as illusions since there are no clouds above in the sky full of information, but rather large data centers scattered through the landscapes of north Europe.

Landscape with castle surrounded by sun and clouds, Marten Rijckaert, Collection of the National museum in Sweden. NM 1708. Landscape with castle surrounded by sun and clouds, Marten Rijckaert, Collection of the National museum in Sweden. NM 1708

The cold weather - which is being used to cool down the data centers - and green energy sources have become attractive locations for these data centers since the data accumulation from our daily lives  does not only require more space but also more energy. Suddenly weather, cloud services and landscapes appear to us as interlinked! One of these examples is the webpage skisporet.no. Through this webpage anybody is able to follow the status of the ski tracks in Norway, but you are also able to witness the reproduction of a ceremony - read skiing - between the Norwegian society and ”its” landscapes.

SCIENCE MEETS EMOTIONS

Sadly our awareness of the climate crisis does not always correlate with our consumption of weather forecasting. Consuming weather data does not necessary imply our participation in raising awareness or acting to combat the climate crisis, as it should be! The large scale consumption of weather data does mainly communicate the awareness of how fragile a certain business sector can be due to drastic weather conditions. The green energy sector depends very much on the daily weather, and so does global shipping infrastructure as well as the travel and tourism industry.

It seems that we are facing a cognitive disorientation when not being able to properly connect ”strange” weather to climate crisis. Obviously we do not fully understand the existential value of grasping emotions and facts that ”we are the weather” as Jonathan Safran Foer carefully explains to us in his book about human behavior and weather. So where to enter, how to start the awareness raising that we are the weather? Could a humble step consist of engaging in a dialogue between the science of climate and our feelings about the weather?