Thursday, August 1, 2013
Half baked -- a Carbon Based original
Canine sprawled on the one cool place -- the basement floor. Feline reduced to a fur puddle on the couch. Humvee-sized bear plodded by, tongue out. Even the birds took a break.
We humans were too stupefied to move. The wind blasting through the trees at night felt red hot. The fan just added to the roasting. I remembered a story about a Pittsburgh bank that gave away fans during a heat wave, only to discover that some of their elderly customers died as a result of hot air convection.
A few years ago, we removed the central air conditioning; we never used it. As the July 2013 heat wave intensified, we broke down and bought a portable air conditioner for the bedroom. It barely cooled the soupy air.
After a few days, the strands that held my thoughts together dissolved, and my sense impressions floated into the void. The Hannah Arendt movie provided an excuse to enjoy cool air in the car on the way to the movie house. Between cigarettes, Barbara Sukowa declared that Eichmann didn't think. I couldn't think. She would have lectured me about the banality of heat waves.
But I shouldn't exaggerate. Here at headquarters, the heat wave wasn't a disaster, in that nothing was destroyed, though the effective life of the roads and bridges in the vicinity was probably shortened. For most of us, the heat exacted a misery tax.
Unlike a tax levied by a government, where the revenue intends to advance a socially valuable goal, the misery tax is a dead loss for almost everyone. People who sell air conditioners, but not the rest of us.
Misery drives us all to think short-term. Indeed, how much of our sentient selves remain when the heat grows intolerable? Not much. In the grip of the heat, I couldn't consider cutting emissions, or lowering the risks of global warming. My horizons shrunk to a single, sweaty point. This constriction is an underappreciated toll of bad weather.
Mitigating climate change demands that we think in the longest periods we can handle. We need cool, dry rooms to do that.
If the climate change contribution to the heat wave is one percent today, the proportion will creep higher, the way a tax does if citizens don't push back. Like a toothache, the pain will increase until we realize that we're in agony. When we have strongly corroborated reasons to believe that a tooth -- or a global problem -- will become painful in the future, then it's sensible to deal with it now, before the ache overwhelms us.
The next local climate change tax will probably be different. It might be a flood at a neighbor's house, or a more intense season of mosquitoes, or more ticks. Greenhouse gas emissions won't be the only cause, naturally, but it must be a contributing factor that threatens to worsen. A steady onslaught of these disruptions wears everyone down. Misery makes it harder to think, just when searching thought is most needed.
Now that the weather has broken a little, the dog is patrolling the yard, the cat demanding to be let outside. The birds are active again, including the heron that feeds in the drying pond. My room is actually cool and dry. Yet I'm too busy enjoying the relief to turn my thinking towards future decades. Even as I urge the long-term perspective on everyone, my own adherence to my recommendation is haphazard at best. We need to use our respites from misery wisely. Take a few beats to savor the departure of pain, and then, back to paying attention to the long run.