Perils of Predicting the Weather


It seems Manitoba broke a few records lately… see the-5-coldest-places-on-earth.

For my family, it meant I spent a lot of the Christmas holidays hibernating under a faux-fur blanket, telling myself this is what keeps our housing prices low and whining that it was inhumane to make me go play Barbies in our drafty back room. For quadriplegics like my Dad, it meant not leaving the condo for nearly three weeks because his van’s electronic ramp and -40 C don’t get along. But for polar bears at the Winnipeg Zoo, it was party time.

I’ve got two books coming out this year, both set in Winnipeg, but neither take place during our infamous winter. Your Constant Star begins in mid-March, when one of the protagonists observes that calling her school vacation “spring break” is like calling a dentist chair a “waterside recliner.” As the story progresses, things gradually give way to road grit and slushy bus shelters and the distinctive April-in-Winnipeg smell of soggy Red River gumbo and last year’s dog shit.

The other one, Boy Lost in Wild, is a collection of short stories that all take place during the dog days of a Winnipeg summer. The stories are tenuously linked, (let’s play find the connections!) but our city’s fickle August, teetering between sudden thunderstorms and stubborn heat, between harsh yellow noons and late violet sunsets, is really the only recurring character.

But I just finished a book set in Churchill fifty years from now, where the only bears left in Manitoba are in a Winnipeg sanctuary much like the one that’ll open this summer. And that means I’ve spent the last year literally trying to predict the weather. And by extension, the future, I guess.

I read books that go out on a limb, predicting everything from who’s gonna go to war with whom, to who’s going to invent the magic bullet that might save our asses, and I read books about how and why we’re so profoundly sucky at predicting anything at all.

In writing my own book, I had to take wild stabs at how we may be using the Internet, social media, and surveillance technology as we near the end of the century. I tried to imagine the kinds of debates that may be dominating our politics and our dinner tables. It was a bit of a stretch for a social realist writer like me, but kind of fun in its own way.

In the end, I feel pretty certain about one thing when it comes to the weather. As far as climate change goes, most other places on earth will be hit harder than Manitoba (we do have a distinct possibility of droughts that would leave those of the 1930s in the dust). But our sub-arctic will almost certainly become more hospitable (i.e. warmer) to everyone other than a few over-adapted coastal species.

Even now, though, nothing happens in isolation. We can no longer plead ignorance about a damn thing. It’s all there, a relentless plethora of global content at our fingertips — the horrors and dramas and comedies of the day.

In the next fifty years or so, how will we handle the challenges, both the ones many of us see coming down the pike and the ones arriving out of left field? How will they change us, if at all?

I’ve got two kids who will still be raising their own kids fifty years from now. And If I’m lucky, and medical interventions continue apace, I may even be still around to see for myself.

I heard once that when Margaret Laurence was old and dying, she looked back on The Stone Angel, and said “I got it right.” And I guess my question is: did that make her feel better or worse?