Who'll Stop The Rain?

It's one of those things you're liable to hear whenever the rain starts pelting down: "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." It's one of the few lines of Mark Twain's that just about everybody can quote. Two problems: first, it's not a Twain quote; second, it's not true.

The quote is actually from Charles Dudley Warner, who first deployed it in 1880 in the Hartford Courant, the newspaper he edited. The confusion over who said it probably stems from the fact that the only reason Warner is remembered today, if he is remembered at all, is that he was Twain's collaborator on the mediocre novel, The Gilded Age. But Charles Dudley Warner deserves to be remembered in Orange County for a different reason.

His 1891 account of his travels in California, Our Italy, was the first book to contain a description of a newly independent Orange County. (OC wasn't hacked free from Los Angeles County until March 8, 1889.) Dudley was impressed by the newborn OC:

In passing into Orange County, which was recently set off from Los Angeles, we come into a region of less "fashion," but one that for many reasons is attractive to people of moderate means who are content with independent simplicity. The country about the thriving village of Santa Ana is very rich, being abundantly watered by the Santa Ana River and by artesian-wells. The town is nine miles from the ocean. On the ocean side the land is mainly agricultural; on the inland side it is specially adapted to fruit. We drove about it, and in Tustin City, which has many pleasant residences and a vacant "boom" hotel, through endless plantations of oranges. On the road towards Los Angeles we passed large herds of cattle and sheep, and fine groves of the English walnut, which thrives especially well in this soil and the neighborhood of the sea. There is comparatively little waste land in this valley district, as one may see by driving through the country about Santa Ana, Orange, Anaheim, Tustin City, etc. Anaheim is a prosperous German colony... This is one of the richest regions in the State, and with its fair quota of working population, it will be one of the most productive.

Things, as you may have noticed, have changed somewhat over the years.

While Dudley was right about some things– e.g., Southern California's climate would prove irresistible to people looking to escape winters back East– some things he got spectacularly wrong. He was certain, for example, that olive growing would emerge as the dominant industry in Southern California. And we now know he was just wrong about nobody doing anything about the weather.

In his new book, The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth, Tim Flannery documents just how much people have been doing to the weather since the industrial revolution. Global warming has produced major changes in worldwide weather patterns, and will produce even more dramatic ones unless something is done. The book has already convinced the Australian government, one of the three governments that backed the Bush administration rejection of the Kyoto Accords (the others are Monaco and Liechtenstein), to change its stand on global warming, and start making serious efforts to address the problem. The chances The Weather Makers will have the same impact in the U.S. are... well, about as good as the chances of olive growing emerging as the dominant industry in Southern California this year. But still, it's an important book, and one of those rare scientific works that is so well written that it makes for fascinating reading. Excerpts from it can be found here.


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