a weather report

I have just had a rather disturbing thought about the weather, or its function in human communication.

What if the reason why people blither on meaninglessly about the weather is not, as I had generally assumed, a sort of mutual grooming by which they indicate that they are high enough in each othersʼ regard that theyʼre willing to coexist, and even communicate meaningfully when there is something worth saying?

I noted earlier that the grass is growing again outside, and so at some point in the next few weeks it will need a trim.  And I mentioned it.  I think that's possibly useful information rather than empty chat ... but thereʼs a similarity here, isnʼt there?  Only Iʼm talking about the season rather than the weather.

What then, if the actual reason for weathery chitchat is that our ancestors really had to be aware of, not only the weather, but the seasons.  Obviously they did, and obviously thatʼs why later generations built megalithic calendars.  But what if, in the pre-megalithic past, the best guide we had to the seasons was consensus, based primarily on expressions of views about the weather?  A sort of wisdom-of-crowds for planning seasonal activities.  I expect an argument could be presented for the adaptive potential of that behaviour.  Iʼm not sure how strong it would be.  But even if itʼs only slightly adaptive, it could be useful – so, is blithering endlessly about the weather a product of a now mostly-redundant but hitherto adaptive evolved trait in humans?  Partly co-opted as a social lubricant?

Thatʼs the disturbing thought.  Thereʼs a reason for it?  I mean, one we can approve of?  And, if it is a deep trait, the implication is that it could be something weʼre stuck with, except on the evolutionary timescale.  The prospect of having to listen to people witter on about wind, rain, and nice or dreich days, for the rest of my life, fills me with renewed dread.

Howwwwever.  Possibly thereʼs an upside.  It is, after all, important that people should start taking climate – rather than weather – seriously.  Might there be a way of co-opting the trait again so that instead of mostly commenting on todayʼs weather, and where we might once have commented on the advancing seasons, people instead comment on and think about larger scales?  Could we set in motion a default conversation about CO2 levels and annual average temperatures, rather than rain hail and shine?  About the extent of permafrost and icecap melt, or sea levels?

The answer seems to be:  Doubtful.  Because theyʼre not things that can be immediately observed.  People talk about weather they can directly experience.  In fact, people talk about weather they think other people will agree about whether theyʼve really experienced anything or not.

Still, there might a a way into it.  People would talk about things theyʼre aware of.  So if there were readouts of the latest CO2 figures, average sea-level figures, daily estimated permafrost methane releases, visible everywhere we currently see clocks...?  Or even if these were included in the weather report.  It would give us something to talk about.  And it would be something meaningful.  Even I might break my silence more often.

Or, if weʼre not going to do that, what are we going to do?

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