Telling stories about the weather

Joe Kloc in Seed Magazine:

MakeItRain_320x198 The Hopi people of the southwestern US have a story: During a long drought when corn wouldn’t grow, the tribe began running out of food. Two children made a toy hummingbird that, as they tossed it into the air, came to life. It flew to the center of the Earth and begged the god of fertility for help. And he made it rain.

For as long as we have been telling stories, we have been telling them about weather, trying, in the absence of scientific certainty, to understand its influence on our lives. In the small body of research there has been on the topic, we’ve found that wind and heat can make us cranky, violent, sick, and suicidal. We honk more horns, have more headaches, kill more people and, according to a recent study, even fight more wars.

“Warming increases the risk of civil war in Africa,” reads the title of a paper published in PNAS in November that looked at the relationship between temperature and armed conflict in the sub-Sahara. Researchers found that violence was more likely to erupt in years with hotter weather. “If the temperature goes up by just one degree, crop yields can decline by 20 percent or more,” explains Marshall Burke, one of the study’s authors. “Since 75 percent of poor Africans are engaged in agriculture for their livelihoods, these small changes can have big influence on their incentives to join rebellions.” It’s a frighteningly simple logic that suggests a frighteningly simpler one: The hotter Africa gets, the more violent a place it will become.

More here.