Hot Air

Climate change is too important to leave to the experts. For years now, partisans on both sides of the climate issue have flung graphs, glaciers and hockey sticks at each other, generating as much heat as greenhouse gases, but little consensus.

For most Americans, climate change arrived on Thursday, June 23, 1988. This was the day James E. Hansen, a youthful and idealistic NASA scientist, appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by population control enthusiast Senator Tim Wirth of Colorado. Hansen had an alarming story to tell: the global warming of the Earth’s atmosphere had begun, caused by human-made carbon dioxide. According to Hansen, the long-range forecast called for worse droughts and forest fires along with heavier rains and floods than ever before.

The Senators gathered in Dirksen 366 were inclined to believe him. The temperature in the Capitol that day rose to 98°, and the hearing room itself was a steaming cauldron. During his conclusion, Hansen ceremoniously mopped his brow, the senators soaked in their shirtsleeves, and the precursor to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created.

The sauna-like hearing room was itself the result of man-made climate change—and the man who made it was Senator Wirth. To help bolster Hansen’s testimony, the Senator’s staff scheduled the hearing on what local weather statistics had indicated to be the hottest day of the year. Prior to the meeting, he ordered his staff to enter the room the night before and open its three large windows in order to place so much stress on the building’s air conditioning system that it shut down. While Hansen’s assertions might later be contested, the climate that day agreed perfectly with him.

Senator Wirth’s mischief reflects a larger social trend that I call “manmade personal climate change”, or “MPCC”. This kind of climate change requires no experts. The phenomenon is so apparent, fundamental and omnipresent, only a non-expert could see it. As Goethe observed, “The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.”

Consider your own “personal climate” and the dramatic changes your private environment has undergone over the past several decades. Since the 1940s, two key factors relating to our environment have accounted for “MPCC”: clothing and central air conditioning.

The tee-shirt’s ubiquity dates from World War II. American youth has taken to wearing tee-shirts as part of their informal uniform. Originally an undergarment to keep a person warm, the tee-shirt became an outer garment that allowed sailors and soldiers in the tropics to keep cool. The skimpy garment, now worn year-round, has a triple effect—making you feel colder in air-conditioned buildings, hotter once outdoors and unconsciously aware of the contrast between indoors and out.

The second factor is chilled indoor air. Like tee-shirts, air conditioning became widespread following World War II. One first encountered air conditioning in movie theaters and bars, especially in the South and Southwest, regions of tremendous post World War II population growth. Soon “AC” was everywhere we were: houses, work, cars, even gigantic factories where large windows were once deemed adequate to handle the summer heat.

Today Americans increasingly reside in treeless suburbs ever more prevalent in the sunbelt. For example, Arizonians live half the year in air-conditioned lockdown—waking in 70°, driving in the 70° climate of their car, working in their 70° office and retracing the journey at 5:00 P.M. If they go out, it isn’t outdoors, but to an air-conditioned restaurant or movie theater. The Arizona Diamondbacks play in Chase Field, a fully air-conditioned ballpark bathing over 48,000 people in a man-made cloud of artificially cooled vapor.

In the United States during summer, the climate—the real climate—might indeed seem anomalous. Nature itself feels artificially hot to one who is artificially cooled. Our response to the notion of man-made global warming is that we increasingly experience the outdoors as a warmer environment.

Over the last half-century we’ve developed a new, profound and subtle sensitivity to outdoor temperatures during the balmy seasons. This unconscious receptivity is complemented by the conscious psychic satisfaction from believing in man-made global warming.

I do not dispute climate change. The controversy is over the level of human influences. “Manmade Personal Climate Change” may add an overlooked dimension to the debate over man-made causes. It may nudge the public into contending more seriously with them—if only by a degree or two.

The above blog entry appeared in The Providence Journal op/ed section on Sunday, April 25, 2010

This entry was posted on Friday, April 23rd, 2010 at 7:40 am and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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17 Responses to “Hot Air”

  1. KCrouch said:

    Who is the arbiter of the ‘correct’ temperatures and climate? Each year 4 times as many people freeze to death as die from heat. A degree or two upward means longer growing seasons and a greater variety of crops. I am not for profligate pollution or wasting resources, but I resist the religion of AGW and its bias against man’s enjoyment of our wonderful earth and its gifts.

  2. Pat said:

    Lets make a Monument out of any state that allows AC and remove all the people. No more AC for the wealthy!

  3. Kathy said:

    Excellant! Finally someone who recognizes reality and sees through the artificially cooled vapor surrounding us.

  4. Whether man made or not. Things are changing. Let us focus more on what we can do as indiviuals, than what or who we can blame. Let’s all return to growing a little of our own produce and Herbs. And though the burbs may be a wasteland where trees are concerned, let’s make it bloom with things we can visually and emotionally enjoy. And eat too.

  5. Gary said:

    I found your website by pure happenstance one day and preceeded to read an article, can’t remember which one, I thought it odd to have that type of an article in a botanical news letter format. As I perused through your well spoken and obviously well studied synopsis I became an avid follower, I look forward to your news letters and pass them on to friends. This article touts my sentiments exactly, though we all need to do our part ecologically to preserve our planet, We don’t need our government to fabricate and manipulate facts and use scare tactics to enflame special interest groups to challenge and impede our rights

  6. Jeanne Vance said:

    Hurray for common sense! Seems very few have it at this time.

  7. William agan said:

    I certainly agree with you on man’s affect on warming if indeed it’s even happening. Climate has been changing throughout geologic history long before man was walking around. Many people get confused between pollution and climate change.
    One can get a real idea of the global warming scare fraud by reading “The Real Global
    Warming Disaster” by Christopher Booker. He exposes the bad science and the politics behind it

  8. Mary Coppola said:

    Very, very interesting. I have lived in a great variety of climates in US (Mojave Dessert-very hot very dry), Wash. DC (hot & humid), N. Calif. (nearly perfect!)..Europe (England & Germany) cold & humid winters, France/Spain (hot hot summers), India (S. tip…hot & super humid, Chile & Argentina (very changeable daily, hot-cold, not too humid)..and now the killer, mid North Carolina…mild winters w/ferociously humid summers…most of these did not have AC and amazingly enuf, I survived them all w/o too much discomfort. Now older, living in AC, the summers are tolerable & I thank God for it. After reading your article, I can better understand how “they did it back then here in NC wearing all those underclothes and long dresses or 3 piece suits”! Thanks.

  9. Cookie Littlefield said:

    Whoever wrote that was well informed, educated & akin to environmental factors. Bless you! I plan to send this to all our Holliston Garden Club Members, of which I am one.

    Your nursery is tops and Peter & I have bought a number of plants from you with totally satisfactory results.

    You people are a treasure but sometimes treasures go unnoticed. Not this time…Bless you again!
    Impessed, Cookie 🙂

  10. F. Bennett said:

    Thanks for adding your voice (Hot Air) to this core issue of our times. Next steps might include info on ways to contribute to the solution through gardening tips (eg trees and plants that maximize oxygen, ecosystem health, and positioning in relation to house, watering; or best alternatives to chemicals; or cheap/ non-skilled/eco-sound ways to save runoff water from winter to summer use…)The issue of how our lifestyles are killing the oceans is pressing and could use some personal solutions as well (plastics and acidification). Thanks.

  11. Karen Tweedy said:

    I concur heartily, having just retreated to my air conditioned home office to further plan/dream about my garden after only 30 minutes of outdoor work in what seemed like a blistering 80 degree spring sunshine. Prior to that I took my dog for a ride in my air conditioned car to buy a milkshake at the drive-thru! We are so far removed from the actual environment most of the time that we are clueless wusses. Your insight along with historical references made me chuckle and think back to the days growing up in Atlanta with no air conditioning. We just stayed outside til we had to come in because it felt better out there and was so much more interesting. Now it feels better indoors and we have the internet, satellite TV and video games to hold our interest and expand our rears!
    As far as climate change goes, I would like to see some legitimate,open scientific inquiry going on and not just this 1 ring circus (the other 2 rings have been tarped over) presented to prop up the lobbying for the carbon credit scheme designed to line the pockets of some of our so-called leaders.
    Now should I go sweat a little outside and finish prepping the ground for new fescue seed or continue surfing the web for clematis ‘Haizawa’? Ooh, I just remembered I have fudgcicles in the freezer!

  12. EDS said:

    Interesting. I’ve been in the middle about this for some time as global warming has happened before within historical times. (Cattle and wheat were raised in southern Greenland from 900 to 1350 AD.) however I think we should try to stabilize the climate, as both we and nature together are to blame. We here in MA recently had the worst floods in 250 years and the tides have visibly risen (I live on the shore), so something obviously is happening.

  13. Cynthia said:

    I concur with the article regarding the observation that global warming is more closely related to modern technology and the destruction of the natural environment than the ebb and flow of natural environmental change. The current population is overwhelmingly surrounded by manufactured climate indoors, with little experience in the natural environment ourdoors. “Be gone” couch potatoes and hot-house “plants!” Do some recent scientific research on climate change, plant a garden and volunteer to preserve the trees in YOUR neighborhood!

  14. Julie Pearson said:

    Having lived for seventy years on this extraordinary planet I am well aware of the effect of climate change..I am an avid gardener and a keen observer of nature and I am very concerned with the strange denial of most people when it comes to this particular situation.. So many people are connected to their technical devices and it appears that they are oblivious to what is happening around them. I am trying to teach by example..I drive as little as possible, I have an eco-friendly garden that requires very little water (I have NO grass), try to buy locally, etc…and I pray that people wake up and pay attention to what nature is telling us…otherwise, we are toast!!

  15. nadia said:

    I find it so interesting to read different articles about climate change and how vastly different the perspectives are. I really enjoyed this article and the ‘artificially cooled’ theory is one I had not thought of… and how true and obvious it is.
    Thank you.

  16. Donna said:

    Excellent…….but scary!
    I say, turn off the AC….it is causing alot more damage…then good!

  17. Claudine said:

    How can one says that.
    As usual, we will not do anything.
    Meanwhile outside buildings and statisitcs are showing a strong change in temperature, rain, wind, drought in our own backyard.
    Go and watch the poles.
    Go in the Pacific at miles from any continent and watch the pollution in the sea, the death of the Fone and Flora. Temperatures too high.
    Go at the top of mountains and watch plants dying.
    Do nothing, it seems so much easier.
    Poor planet.

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