Using proverbs to study local perceptions of climate change

Climate Economist At Work

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

If you thought open source temperature monitoring was an interesting approach to measuring climate change, you’re going to love the proverb temperature reconstruction proxy.

Exploring climate change impacts through popular proverbs

MAY 15, 2020 10:34 PM AEST

A study carried out by the ICTA-UAB presents a novel way of using the local knowledge embodied in popular proverbs to explore climate change impacts at local scales. It has been published in the journal Regional Environmental Change.

The proverbs related to environmental issues traditionally used by the local population in rural areas of Spain are currently considered imprecise and unreliable due to climate change impacts. This is the result of a study carried out by the Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) that presents a novel way of using the local knowledge embodied in popular proverbs to explore climate change impacts at local scales

The study used information contained in local proverbs to explore the impacts of climate change on climatic aspects of the environment such as precipitation, on physical aspects like snow cover; and finally, on biological aspects, such as flowering periods.

For example, the proverb por Todos los Santos la nieve en los altos, por San Andrés la nieve en los pies indicates the arrival and abundance of snow cover. So, according to the proverb, at the beginning of November (Todos los Santos is celebrated on November 1st) snow can be found on the peaks of the mountains, and by the end of the month (November 30th) it normally reaches lower altitudes. When they asked participants about their current perception of the accuracy of this proverb, many stated that the proverb barely reflects the current situation, as snow arrives now later and it is less abundant. And indeed, the scientific data and literature for the region shows a delay in snow periods.

Read more: https://www.miragenews.com/exploring-climate-change-impacts-through-popular-proverbs/

The abstract of the study;

Published: 

Using proverbs to study local perceptions of climate change: a case study in Sierra Nevada (Spain)

María GarteizgogeascoaDavid García-del-Amo & Victoria Reyes-García 

Regional Environmental Change volume 20, Article number: 59 (2020)

Local communities’ dependence on the environment for their livelihood has guided the development of indicators of local weather and climate variability. These indicators are encoded in different forms of oral knowledge. We explore whether people recognize and perceive as accurate one type of such forms of oral knowledge, climate-related proverbs. We conducted research in the Alta Alpujarra Occidental, Sierra Nevada, Spain. We collected locally recognized proverbs and classified them according to whether they referred to the climatic, the physical, or the biological system. We then conducted questionnaires (n = 97) to assess informant’s ability to recognize a selection of 30 locally relevant proverbs and their perception of the accuracy of the proverb. Climate-related proverbs are abundant and relatively well recognized even though informants consider that many proverbs are not accurate nowadays. Although proverbs’ perceived accuracy varied across informant’s age, level of schooling, and area of residence, overall proverb’s lack of reported accuracy goes in line with climate change trends documented by scientists working in the area. While our findings are limited to a handful of proverbs, they suggest that the identification of mismatches and discrepancies between people’s reports of proverb (lack of) accuracy and scientific assessments could be used to guide future research on climate change impacts.

Read more: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10113-020-01646-1?utm_source=miragenews

Why stop at this level of absurdity? Researchers could try adding a control to their proverb proxy study. The obvious control would be the past predictions of local psychics.

Think about it. Psychics try really hard to be accurate and they are usually familiar with local proverbs, so by interpreting the past predictions of psychics, and measuring the accuracy of psychic predictions using the proverb temperature reconstruction, scientists could develop an empirical measure of the accuracy of local wisdom vs actual climate change over time. The psychic reconstruction proxy would be at least as inaccurate as proverb reconstruction.

Of course skeptics of subjective temperature proxies might prefer climate science to stick to better known temperature reconstruction techniques, such as tree rings, bore holes and snow lines.

But physical proxies sometimes produce unexpected results, like when the Climategate scientists carried their tree ring reconstruction forward into the instrumental period, and discovered to their horror that there was a massive divergence between the results of their proxy reconstruction and thermometer records.

Tree ring width and wood density vs temperature
Twenty-year smoothed plots of averaged ring-width (dashed) and tree-ring density (thick line), averaged across all sites, and shown as standardized anomalies from a common base (1881-1940), and compared with equivalent-area averages of mean April-September temperature anomalies (thin solid line). From Briffa 1998. By SUVOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

70 thoughts on “Using proverbs to study local perceptions of climate change

  1. Why not study the migratory patterns of the Pacific Northwest Bigfoot as a proxy for climate change.

    • This year “April showers” ran well into May. If that’s not “weird” , I don’t know what is !!

      In 2007, when I installed by homebuilt IOT solar water heater, it was like the middle of summer already in the Med. : clear blue skies every day and boiling hot. This year it’s no more than “warm” and at least 50% of the time overcast or raining.

      I guess this year the sun must practising “shelter at home”.

      The French have several of these proverbs relating to Saint XXXX’s day. None of which have ever been close to what you may call predictive.

        • I think that the May in question is the Crataegus commonly called hawthorn, quickthorn, thornapple,May-tree,whitethorn, or hawberry rather than the month in which it normally flowers. Good advice in my experience.

          • I like this game.

            The saying is Scottish. The plant was named May because its flowers were used in festivals on May 1st. Now, in Scotland, May flowers in June.

            In England, Mayfly were so named because they appeared in May. Now they appear in June.

            So that proves that Earth’s climate has cooled.

  2. There’s that old familiar warmth of the 1930’s and the chill of the 1970’s in the proxy chart. It just shows up everywhere.

    On a upbeat note, considering all the doom and gloom going around about the economy, I saw where the claims for unemployment compensation in Oklahoma declined by 61,000 during the week ending May 9.

    Oklahoma had opened up into Phase One of economic expansion (no more than 10 people in a group) a couple of weeks ago, and have now gone into Phase Two as of today (no more than 50 people in a group), and from the unemployment claims reduction numbers it looks like 61,000 Oklahomans went back to work last week.

    More to come. 🙂

  3. The climate thing just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

    Mr. Jupes sums up the state of the AGW world on catallaxyfiles.com in response to Australian politicians pushing renewables.

    jupes
    #3454952, posted on May 16, 2020 at 9:52 am. In a just world, all of them would be hanging from lamp posts. Meanwhile Saint Greta will soon be going to some wankfest to lecture the world on Bat Flu. That is the state of the world at the moment.

    • “#3454952, posted on May 16, 2020 at 9:52 am. In a just world, all of them would be hanging from lamp posts.”

      Wow. That’s not very productive.

      • Neither are your comments constantly going after Zoe in unrelated articles he hasn’t posted in…

  4. ICTA-UAB =
    Pato putos .
    If grant pigs can be patos …. maybe they CAN fly !

    😉

  5. Soooo, proverbs are ok, but not historical anecdotes which go against the narrative. Got it.

  6. This would be like accepting some traditional aboriginal knowledge as scientific, such as some Govts have done around the world. Therefore the Aurora Borealis (northern lights) or the southern version, are the spirits of ancestors. That was a good explanation for the Eskimo prior to scientific discovery since no one really had any idea until fairly recently in the scheme of things. But what we know now, these myths shouldn’t be taken literally. On the other hand, there is probably a lot to say for some ancient aboriginal medicine, at least a foundation to work with to bring their traditional wisdom/knowledge into the scientific realm.

    • Yes, in Canada we have innumerable “science” types who blather about traditional knowledge.

      Until the Inuit say there’s too damn many polar bears making the north dangerous, then the progressive scientists ignore them

  7. Climastrology for real. I thought it was just a word I made up. What a blow to my sense of literary accomplishment to realize that it is, in fact, a legitimate descriptor of an actual practice.

    • Actually they don’t … trust in the media has been trending down fairly fast. But don’t expect the media to report it. Some IPSOS surveys that have been kept close to home indicate that the majority of people in the U.S., and around the world have a strong belief that most news stories are embellished and selectively edited based on the news outlets biases. Even many libs don’t entirely believe what they see on TV.

  8. So maybe the climate model should become proverbial models. They then just output the usual statistically incorrect digital garbage but with trite and simplistic phases that can be put into new age proverbs …
    ‘Red sky at night, the forests’ alight. ‘
    ‘Warmer and warmer each day, just as the models say.’
    ‘No more fish says the IPCC, as man has made an acid sea.’
    ‘Stormier days to come says the models on just one run.’
    ‘The climate is more extreme, in this anti-history regime.’

  9. Remember:
    March comes in like a lion and goes out like a kumquat… or something like that.

  10. ”Rains a comin papi”
    ”Yep… I recon so mami …. I recon so”…

    Climate scientologist…
    ”Well actually, if you look at this graph”……

  11. Nice graphic “Climategate” evidence, there, Mr. Worrall. 🙂

    Mike’s Nature trick

    From: Phil Jones
    To: ray bradley ,mann@xxxxx.xxx, mhughes@xxxx.xxx
    Subject: Diagram for WMO Statement
    Date: Tue, 16 Nov 1999 13:31:15 +0000
    Cc: k.briffa@xxx.xx.xx,t.osborn@xxxx.xxx

    Dear Ray, Mike and Malcolm,

    Once Tim’s got a diagram here we’ll send that either later today or
    first thing tomorrow.

    I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps
    to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd from
    1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline. Mike’s series got the annual
    land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land
    N of 20N. The latter two are real for 1999, while the estimate for 1999
    for NH combined is +0.44C wrt 61-90. The Global estimate for 1999 with
    data through Oct is +0.35C cf. 0.57 for 1998.
    Thanks for the comments, Ray.

    Cheers
    Phil

    Prof. Phil Jones
    Climatic Research Unit Telephone +44 (0) xxxxx
    School of Environmental Sciences Fax +44 (0) xxxx
    University of East Anglia
    Norwich Email p.jones@xxxx.xxx
    NR4 7TJ
    UK

    (Source (where Steve McIntyre analyzes this thoroughly): https://climateaudit.org/2009/11/20/mike%E2%80%99s-nature-trick/ )

    Cheers! 😆

  12. My favourite weather proverb is German and it goes something like this:

    “Kräht der Hahn auf dem Mist, aendert’s Wetter, oder bleibt wie es ist.”

    Roughly translated: “When the cock crows on the dunghill, either the weather will change, or it will stay as it is.”

    • Paul Deacon contributes: ” “When the cock crows on the dunghill, either the weather will change, or it will stay as it is.””

      Love it! Folk wisdom at its finest.

      Hmmm… better than some of the climate models, too. They only go one way. This proverb covers all of the bases.

  13. Hm.

    The Scandinavian farmers in Greenland ~ 1,000 years ago could quote a proverb or two:

    Make hay while the sun shines.

    Or

    He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.
    (iow: if you wait for the perfect weather, you will never plant/reap)
    Ecclesiastes 11:4 KJV

    The Norse settlements of Greenland had horses, cattle, pigs, sheep and goats and they had to be self-sufficient in growing the crops to feed them. There is a big difference here as to the extent and magnitude of Norse Greenlander farming that was done 1,000 years ago as compared to what is being done now, or can be done now … [In the far south of Greenland, they do grow hay. Hay has a very short growing season and currently in Greenland, the cut hay must be wrapped in plastic right in the fields to keep it from spoiling. That was hardly a technique available for use by Medieval Norsemen.]

    (Source: https://wattsupwiththat.com/2016/01/19/debunking-the-vikings-werent-victims-of-climate-myth/ )

  14. ” …por Todos los Santos la nieve en los altos, por San Andrés la nieve en los pies… ” not to mention “la lluvia en España ya no cae principalmente en la llanura”, more evidence of Climate Change.

  15. We say it always snows once in April, which means don’t take the snow tires off. This year it snowed 5 times in May! It is true that Fall lasts a little longer (except when it doesn’t) but Springs have been pushed back as Winter clings longer.

    It was below freezing three times this past week. Unbelievably cold for May.

    • Chilly here in Washington State, too. Still within the bounds of natural variation, but, definitely a “backward Spring.”

      That term, “Backward Spring” (I have seen it used in C .S. Lewis’ letters at least as far back as 1945) is a clue (hint, hint, O AGW grant grubbers) that a normal Spring is fairly warm/mild by mid April. And how MANY “Mother’s Day” picnics we had as children — in lovely, warm, sunny, weather….

  16. So they started with 30 proverbs, and from that were able to have findings on a “handful” — perhaps only the three in the press release? It makes me wonder how many of the proverbs the objective data didn’t have local support.

    I also wonder about the quality of the support. The no-longer-reliable proverb about snow on November 1st and November 30th is supported by “a delay in snow periods.” How long is the documented delay? And how relevant is the local perception that the snow is “less abundant” when the proverb only concerns the snowline, not the snow depth?

    The second no-longer-reliable proverb is that it either rains a lot or doesn’t rain at all in September. This is “supported” as now unreliable as it “hardly rains in September anymore” — which is consistent with the proverb, which actually *predicts* that not raining at all in September is one of the two possible outcomes. This is “supported” by data showing a decrease in precipitation that month — but how large is the decrease, and how is that relevant to a proverb not related at all to average precipitation, but predicting the absence of *moderate* rain in month?

    The third example was a proverb about flowering times that apparently *can’t* be validated objectively as ever being reliable in the past, but provides evidence of climate change by the fact that it isn’t regarded as reliable now. One wonders if there are any example proverbs in their list which actually can be validated as reliable now *and* are perceived as such. Since there’s been so much publicity about “weather weirding” in response to changes in anomaly imperceptible to human senses and non-significant changes in event frequency, I would expect skepticism of weather proverbs accuracy to increase just based on AGW propaganda, even without any underlying change in reliability.

    The only weather related proverb I can remember from the places I’ve lived is exactly the same — if you don’t like the weather, just wait fifteen minutes. I’ve heard that maxim in states in the midwest, west, northeast and south. Following the premise of the article, that proves that in the USA local knowledge is that the weather has *always* been too fickle to rely on casual trend perception by observers.

    • Timing of flowering are not strictly linked to climate.
      Farmers moving seeds from warm climates to another place with colder climates can use natural selection to (breed) use seed that germinated earlier, grew quicker and ripened quicker ie. attributes changed opposite of the conditions and assumptions. For example, grain crops in Canada. I guess the opposite is also true with adaptations to warmer climates. Plants seem to drift from what we thought were certain even with the same conditions which devalues “flowering” as a reliable indicator. The primary school level of understanding is incomplete.

      • Plants flowering is affected by a number of factors, according to species and variety.
        Day length, and/or whether the daylength is increasing or decreasing is often a big influence.
        For example the peak flowering date for dandelions in the UK is St George’s Day, April 23rd.
        IIRC there are some Siberian trees that are used to a single change from extreme winter to summer weather and cannot cope with the average UK spring where the weather often has late frosts that the Siberian trees cannot cope with as they have changed their metabolism from extreme frost resistance to summer growing conditions.
        Also IIRC wheat growing on the Great plains of the USA didn’t take off until Russian varieties of wheat were brought over which were better able to stand the harsh winters similar to those experiences in Russia.

    • Good insights, Dale.

      Furthermore, less snow in November (assuming that is the case) is more likely to indicate cooler surface temperature (cold = dry).

      AGW is dead. The stake (several stakes, actually, unskilled climate models, missing heat, and a clown’s hockey stick to name a few) was pounded through its goblin heart years ago.

      All the solar/wind/electric car, etc. sc@mmers can do now is wave their arms and flail about like whirling dervishes, shrieking about “climate weirding” and hissing lies about “renewables” tech*.

      **************

      *Regardless of what facts about solar/wind tech were omitted in “Planet of the Humans,” the truth remains: solar and wind tech as they are can NEVER replace fossil fuel (plus nuclear) power. Solar and wind cannot even meaningfully supplement fossil fuel. They are NEGATIVE ROI. Always. (Yes, even rooftop and the like when you (and this must be included to be a meaningful cost-benefit analysis) factor in maintenance costs — natural gas and other energy sources beat them every time.)

      That donkey Mann can run back and forth and bare his teeth and bray all he likes. The mountain (of facts) remains unmoved.

    • However, here on the coastal plain of Southern California, for much of the year, we have Obama weather – “if you like your weather, you can keep your weather” i.e., change is slow too non-existent.

  17. The paper missed a lot of questions/answers. What changes occurred during the first 800 years compared to the last 200? How do the proverbs compare to the last 100 to 200 years of history? There are many civilisations which have benefited from warm periods and collapsed during colder periods. Many areas over the last 2000 years which have greatly changed long before AGW theory. It will probably be added to the next IPCC report as another piece of evidence for AGW but it’s just poor science of little value. How has the meaning of words and phrases changed over time? Subjective, no mid points, suffers from participant bias, no control group of proverbs (slight edits for a range similar to today and past periods). But it looks great for your PhD application. I guess what I ask for would take another 4 papers and many more $millions.

  18. Well, yes, the snows in Spain don’t (generally) fall as early as they used to. Used to, WHEN? “Proverbial” knowledge goes back generations, usually several of them. 6 generations ago, we were just coming out of the little ice age; OF COURSE snow used to fall earlier, and heavier, than it does now.

    Two generations hence, we’re likely to be back in little ice age conditions, and THEN the snow will fall at the proverbial times and amounts.

  19. How could you all have missed this classic???
    The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!
    Climatology based on Broadway musicals. Perfect!

    I do like the top image on this post. Finally, crystal ball gazing gets some respect at WUWT.
    I have often pointed out that that various metaphysical techniques involving things like crystal balls, chicken bones, and the like are at least as valid as anything NASA GISS puts out.

    As an aside:
    The tree ring data shown on the graph are in good agreement with the temperature as represented by the graph published by the National Academy of Science (NAS) 1975, and Mathews 1976 (National Geographic). The Divergence Problem only appeared after the surface temperature record started getting adjusted and corrected.
    Global Mean Temperature (GMT) reconstructions obtained via Crystal Ball are not adjusted and corrected and so do not suffer from the Divergence Problem.

  20. Look at from the perspective of María Garteizgogeascoa, David García-del-Amo & Victoria Reyes-García: another publication on their curricula vitae. That’s one more step toward tenure or promotion.

    I had one publication so bad that people were getting publications out of refuting it. It still counted.

  21. There’s a saying in Dutch which says: sweet little April sometimes wears a white hat. (I’ll spare you the Dutch). It was correct in the 1950s and early 1960s, but not currently. And there are of course the ‘ice saints’ of early May.

  22. Unfortunately proverbs can be ambiguous. There is an old English proverb “ne’er cast a clout till May be out.”
    That is often taken to mean “don’t put your coat away until May is over.” However there is another explanation of the concluding phrase “till May be out.” It could mean “until the mayflower is in blossom.” In Britain “mayflower” means the white blossom on hawthorn trees and bushes which is often spectacular in May.

    If this second explanation is the true one for the origin of the proverb then the you should not have to wait until the end of the month of May before leaving your coat at home. Even though British weather is unpredictable the Hawthorn blossom explanation makes more sense. We often get good or pleasant weather in May and that has been one of the few enjoyable things about the Covid-19 lockdown so far.

  23. To me there is, in english, a comprehension connection in the two words ‘Weather‘ and ‘Whether‘. Leading to the ditty:
    “Whether the weather be hot, or whether the weather be not. We’ll weather the weather , whether we like it or not.“
    Can this be seen in other languages?

  24. George Polya, in his delightful book on Mathematical Method, How to Solve It, has a perceptive section on “Wisdom of Proverbs.” (pp. 221-2)

    “Solving problems is a fundamental human activity. In fact, the greater part of our conscious thinking is concerned with problems. When we do not indulge in mere musing, or daydreaming, our thoughts are directed towards some end; we seek means, we seek to solve a problem.
    . . . . .
    there are a good many proverbs which characterize strikingly the typical procedures followed in solving problems, the points in common sense involved, the usual tricks, and the usual errors. There are many shrewd and some subtle remarks in proverbs but, obviously, there is no scientific system free of inconsistencies and obscurities in them.”

    If the “experts” involved in climate studies had only half the insights of Polya into scientific method, we would not have anywhere near the amount of hogwash published under the guise of science.

  25. An English proverb illustrates the ability a mainly agricultural people had two thousand years ago to predict the weather. This came from careful observation.

    Jesus speaking to the “academic leaders” of his community said to them
    “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” (Matthew 16:2-3)

    Does this not caution us when discussing climate to give precedence to observations not models?

  26. In Perthshire, Scotland where I grew up one which was quite accurate for day was that
    “when the mist is like smoke on the hillside it will rain later.”

    This was when the morning was half decent. Scotland has a variety of mists as you’d expect from its reputation. So without the aid of a photo it’s difficult to describe exactly which mist we’re talking about. Some mists mean it will be a sunny day, some like the smoke mean a rainy day and some come with rain included.

    Also there are a lot about the wind.

  27. “Hasta el cuarenta de Mayo, no te quites el sayo” (Until May 40th, don’t take out your coat)
    “En Agosto, frío en el rostro” (In August, cold in your face)
    “En Castilla, nueve meses de invierno y tres de infierno” (In Castille, 9 Months of Winter, 3 Months Of Hell)
    “En Abril, aguas mil” (In April, a thousand rainfalls)

    Interestingly, all those ancient spanish proverbs, that every year turn out to be correct, seem to contradict all the catastrophic predictions of Greta and company.

  28. PT Barnum has done this already for Climate Change
    There is a sucker born every minute

  29. Did the researchers, in their anecdotal reference to snow in the mountains, take into account the change from Julian to Gregorian calendar in 1582 ? Circa 2 weeks difference, or would they say such allowance would imply accuracy that their methodology does not have ? /sarc

  30. Climate Dowsing is another favorite Climate research approach to see long lost paleoclimate reconstructions. Climate Divination expert Mike Mann knows it well.

  31. Has anyone checked the fuzz on the woolly caterpillars? If they are extra fuzzy you’re gonna need lots of firewood.

  32. It’s not really a proverb, but here are the words of an illustrated book for children from the 1820s. The author was Sarah Coleridge (daughter of Samuel Taylor C) and it was written to help her young children understand the garden cycle in the UK as it was experienced then.

    I defy anyone familiar with UK weather to say it has changed much in 200 years!

    Sara Coleridge, the Garden Year

    January brings the snow, Makes our feet and fingers glow.
    February brings the rain, Thaws the frozen lake again.
    March brings breezes, loud and shrill, To stir the dancing daffodil.
    April brings the primrose sweet, Scatters daisies at our feet.
    May brings flocks of pretty lambs Skipping by their fleecy dams.
    June brings tulips, lilies, roses, Fills the children’s hands with posies.
    Hot July brings cooling showers, Apricots, and gillyflowers.
    August brings the sheaves of corn, Then the harvest home is borne.
    Warm September brings the fruit; Sportsmen then begin to shoot.
    Fresh October brings the pheasant; Then to gather nuts is pleasant.
    Dull November brings the blast; Then the leaves are whirling fast
    Chill December brings the sleet, Blazing fire, and Christmas treat.

    Gives a picture of climate in 1820s – different from today?

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