By Christopher Cudworth
If the flags are standing straight out from the flagpole, you can be fairly sure of the wind direction. But don’t get too cocky.
The wind is notably fickle. Even in relatively open territory, there are factors that can make the wind turn or change in an instant.
Wind me over
Great cyclists like Eddie Merckx cared not about wind direction for any other reason than it made them tougher, better cyclists to ride into the wind. Here in Illinois we call the wind an “Illinois hill.” It’s relatively flat here but there’s often plenty of wind. So you get a workout comparable to pedaling uphill.
The wind is also known to change directions here in profound ways. Toward evening the wind will often come from the west but change to the east as temps from Lake Michigan shift the wind direction. That means trouble when you’ve ridden 20 miles west into the wind hoping for a tailwind on the return trip. Then the wind shifts and you find yourself pedaling into a stiff and often cool breeze coming back. That type of wind tends to be relentless, not gusty. Although one is not much better than the other.
Running into the wind
Running in a stiff wind can be frustrating and difficult as well. It’s not quite so easy in a 6-mile run to enjoy the advantages of wind in one direction. A 3-mile out and back course demands that you spend a long time fighting the wind.
Some days you just wish the wind direction would stay consistent. How many times have you gone for a ride or a run and felt like the wind changed to blow in your face all 10 miles of the run, or 40 miles on the bike? Even a tailwind can feel like a headwind in certain conditions. It gets so frustrating.
A flag can’t be trusted
So I’ve learned not to completely trust even the good old American flag when it comes to reading wind direction. Wind swirls around objects like houses and the wind direction in the open may not match the direction it seems to indicate in town.
Wind speed can pick up out in the open as well. With less resistance from trees or buildings the wind can nail you hard.
Seasonal winds can be particularly fickle. In March when the weather changes radically within a single day, it is possible to be running or riding along in 60-degree temps and relative calm only to finish in 45-degree chilly winds that seem to erupt from nowhere.
This past winter we experienced in the Midwest what meteorologists label the Polar Vortex. That is, cold air from north of Canada poured down the Great Lakes region like water in a drain pipe. We froze while much of the rest of North America enjoyed a relatively mild winter.
Our changing climate
Globally, temperatures continue to climb. This year’s month of June was one of the hottest climatological months on record. Despite what a small fraction of ideological doubters and deniers want the world to believe, global warming is real. The winds of change really are blowing.
That means even some of our so-called dependable wind patterns could be altered or changed. Even the Gulf Stream is at risk if ocean temps rise. That could spell trouble for climate in northern Europe, for example.
None of this is all that easy to predict for the future. Some of this depends on how much carbon we continue pumping into the atmosphere. Yet the signs of global temperature alteration toward a warmer global climate are there to see. Average global temps have been climbing consistently for more than a century. We can see which way the winds of climate change are blowing.
Those who don’t outright deny global climate change have ironically suggested that its benefits could outweigh its risks. One must admire their facile methods, but that’s one of those tarsnakes that could take us down.
Some of the most aggressive deniers of climate change exist here in America. We have politicians and businesspeople with interests vested in carbon industries, especially oil and coal. They don’t want anyone messing with their potential profits or business models. As far as they’re concerned, the current status quo is not only sufficient but a desirable model of practice for the near future and beyond. So they invest in denial “science” and trumpet the carefully scripted contradictory models their chosen scientists deliver on cue.
But the wind of change is blowing hard in one direction right now and has been for 80 years or more. We all know it could yet shift, there is no doubt. It often does. The problem with the current trend is that anthropogenic impact on the climate is a relatively new and persistent thing. There are fluctuations as you’d expect in any climate system, yet the temps continue their straight-line climb toward levels where ice caps will melt, oceans will rise and agriculture could become a desperate attempt to cling to life.
Blown away by time
The human perception of time is so painfully limited. We’re used to thinking in terms of decades or years when it comes to policy shifts. A significant percentage of the American population doesn’t even believe in science that tells us the earth is billions of years old. Their time-scope is limited to something like 4-10,000 years, or 100,000 years at the most. It’s no wonder they cannot conceive the issues with anthropogenic climate change.
We study the earth’s history and evolution to learn about human origins and the climate that sustains us. But when people can’t conceive of the natural origins for life on earth they cannot either conceive of factors that may be aberrations in those natural life cycles. So they deny it is possible on grounds that it contradicts their worldview either on spiritual or economic grounds. How ironic that such strange bedfellows should be the contradicting factor in grasping our true circumstance and what to do about it?
In truth the sudden rise in global temperatures is profoundly concerning. The hot winds blowing now are a grave threat to our current state of existence. One would think that religious people who view the world through the lens of original sin would get the idea that human beings have soiled the atmosphere. And one would also think that leading business people with billions invested in energy interests would embrace a model of moderating pollutants so that their products do not destroy the very markets upon which they depend. Instead we find people who seem interested only in denying that the winds of change are blowing at all. They seem to figure only God or The Market can determine such things. Some seem to think those two factors are one and the same and spend the rest of their time calling other people bad names.
Right now we stand at a point in history where people are fond of branding anyone who questions the status quo of consumerism and American economic aggression “un-American” or “anti-American.” They label the issue of climate change only a “liberal” concern. Which is a pretty sick way of manipulating truth for political gain and personal profit. It’s as if the proponents of the carbon-based industries and their spokespeople like Rush Limbaugh want to control the wind itself for their own profits. But of course wind energy is just one of the many alternatives to carbon-based industries now causing climate change.
In any case, the winds of change are blowing and shifting whether climate change deniers want to admit it or not.
Man on the moon and the winds of conspiracy
One thinks of the flag those astronauts planted on the moon all those years ago. The American flag sticks out straight as if there were an eternal wind blowing it straight and true. Of course that is an illusion. There is no atmosphere on the moon. No oxygen to sustain the human race or to blow the American flag into its proud, straight position.
Of course there are even people who do not believe astronauts ever landed on the moon. They believe the whole moon trip thing was a fake because to them it smacks of government conspiracy or somesuch. Conspiracy theories are a direct result of a patent distrust that people in power cannot be trusted. That helps explain why there are vigilante militias standing on the southern borders of the United States, and racist groups hiding in the hills of Idaho, and Congressman who outright state that their one goal in life is to make their political opposition a one-term President.
The fickle winds
It’s hard in a climate of patent distrust like that to help people sort out truth from fiction. That’s especially true with accusations of media bias from both sides. Conservatives say the liberals or making the political flag blow one direction while liberals conduct their own blow back. Add in the Tea Party and Libertarians, Ralph Nader and Sarah Palin and the flag gets a little worn out, tattered and torn from all the hot air tearing at it.
Those of us who run and ride know that the wind really is a fickle thing. The changing winds, be they real or political, can hit you from all sides at times.
Yet we want so badly to believe that the flags we check for wind direction can be trusted. We want to think that a headwind going out is going to be a tailwind coming back. But often that ain’t true.
The hard lesson we learn from all this is that it pays not to count on the wind too much for help. You can neither blame it for slowing you down or take credit for the speed it gives you. There is air pressure and wind resistance even when there is no measurable wind blowing at all. That is the human condition.
It simple pays not to think of the wind as either your friend or your enemy. You still have to cover the miles and get things done no matter which direction the wind is blowing.
But it might pay to learn that you can’t always trust the flag to tell you what to do. It can only tell you so much about the real direction you should be going.