A Conversation With Paul Yeager, Writer and Meteorologist

Yaegar-Post.jpgThough he has been a meteorologist for more than 25 years, Paul Yeager makes his living as a full-time writer. In recent years, he has written for various regional publications, contributed to AOL News, maintained a weather blog on AccuWeather.com, and penned books, including his most recent, Weather Whys: Facts, Myths, and OdditiesHere, Yeager discusses why being a meteorologist is like being a doctor in that, once you've become one, you're always one; how water will soon be one of the nation's most valuable resources, leading us to find new ways to recycle waste water so that it's safe for human consumption; and why Benjamin Franklin deserves to be in a weather hall of fame for inventing the lightning rod and mapping the Gulf Stream.

What do you say when people ask you, "What do you do?"

I say that I'm a writer and meteorologist. My "day job" is a writer/editor at Penn State, in addition to my books and freelance writing, but my training is as a meteorologist. Being a meteorologist is like being a doctor -- you're always one, no matter how far you may stray from looking at weather maps and giving forecasts to the public.

What new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on the sustainability world?

It's difficult to pick any individual item, but the presence of organic and locally grown food in grocery stores is a tremendous step in the right direction.

We might have to adjust our eating habits when our food choices are more limited since locally grown food is dependent on the local climate and what has responded best to the weather of a given season. But who really wants to eat that orange-ish and flavorless tomato, which was ripened by gas, that you see on the shelves in January?

The improvement in the quality of food and the investment in local farms and businesses should make up for any sacrifice, especially when other advantages are considered, such as a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and general pollution, as well as less dependence on oil related to the long-distance transport of genetically-engineered food.

What's something that most people just don't understand about your area of expertise?

I don't think people understand the difference between a meteorologist and other scientists. I know that the name, meteorology, doesn't help with promoting understanding since the weather has nothing to do with meteors; however, meteorologists are not experts in other fields, such as astronomy, geology, and geography.

In other words, we don't know any more about earthquakes than you do. It's also important to note that a meteorologist is not automatically a climate-change expert; in fact, most aren't.

What's an emerging trend that you think will shake up the sustainability world?

Water is soon going to be one of the nation's (and the world's) most pressing needs -- and most valuable resources. In the U.S., aquifers are quickly being drained, and populations are increasing in areas where long-term droughts occur frequently. In addition, we seem to lack the political willpower to regulate industries, such as natural gas drilling, that pollute our groundwater and streams.

We need to be prepared to reuse waste water, whether that's complete recycling (treating it to the point that it can be consumed) or reclaiming waste water (treating it to the point that it can be safe for certain irrigation processes or added to aquifers).

Maybe that won't shake up the sustainability world because sustainability experts understand the technology and needs, but it might change the way Americans think of water, especially when they flush.

What's a sustainability trend that you wish would go away?

Presented by

Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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