I enjoyed your editorial “Climate change? Cold comfort” (February issue, page 5), and I certainly agree that improved meteorological and climatological predictions would help, but I also respect the enormity of such a challenge.

In spite of advances being made in weather forecasting and climatology, our generation may never fully understand the complicated relationships of natural forces, let alone anthropogenic ones. However, to dismiss legitimate observations of natural phenomena — and to discount or deny any responsibility for personal human activity upon our neighbors on this planet — is unwise.

My paternal grandparents emigrated from what is now the Czech Republic and my grandfather was among the first settlers in Box Butte County, Neb., in 1885. In 1897 they sold their land claim for pennies on the dollar due to a severe drought, loaded up an oxcart with their growing family, and traveled to Minnesota. Two babies later, after a stint working in an Omaha, Neb., slaughterhouse, they eventually moved to South Dakota to start farming again. They survived the drought and dust storms of the “Dirty Thirties” that destroyed millions of acres of farmland and forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. I'm sure that they had no clue as to why they experienced the dust storms — caused by severe drought coupled with decades of changes in land use wrought by the westward expansion of different cultures — but their lives were profoundly impacted by those events.

One of my most vivid lessons about weather and human impact on the environment occurred when I was about 10 years old. I was walking with my father in our cornfield on hard pan washed clean of topsoil, looking at the complete devastation of a severe hailstorm and 6 inches of “gully-washer.” We could see our topsoil 2 miles away in the turbid waters of the Missouri River reservoir behind Ft. Randall Dam. This was one of the few times I remember seeing my father cry. He accepted the fact that his farming activities, in spite of hard work and good intentions, contributed to the erosion. He accepted responsibility. I thus began to learn about sustainability and decision-making.

The adversity of weather and climate can present severe, extreme challenges, as well as heartbreak and humility. Unfortunately, in today's culture and economic climate, too many people refuse to accept responsibility for their actions — which can compound adversity.

We can only hope that we have the intelligence to discern the changes occurring around us, be it natural or anthropogenic. If we expect to sustain our life support systems of today, and those for the future of our children and grandchildren, it is imperative that we make wise decisions by seeking out and heeding information that is based on scientific method, intelligent peer review, common sense, and civil discourse. We need to be responsible citizens.

— Roger R. Patocka, PE, county engineer Emmet County (Iowa) Engineers Office

Web Extra

To read Patocka's account of how El Niño was trumped in Iowa — illustrating the challenge of weather forecasting — along with climate-related links, click here.