Paul Andersen: Fair Game
October 18, 2010
“Oh, this is such gorgeous fall weather! It’s wonderful!”
Paeans to autumnal perfection are effusive when summer holds sway into October, when killing frosts are in abeyance, when days dawn for weeks with cloudless perfection and the sun adorns the landscape with sharp and colorful clarity.
Never mind that L.A. broke a heat record recently with a sweltering 113 degrees. A friend who lives just beneath the Hollywood sign told me that a blackout caused havoc when air conditioning overloaded the electrical grid. “We couldn’t use our cell phones because they ran out of charge,” he complained, “and sleeping was horrible in that heat.”
Here in paradise, it’s been a delight to feel unseasonable warmth, with trees turning color and sunshine splashing down. How natural it is to enjoy a weather pattern that nonetheless has forebodings of things going wrong, of things unnatural.
“This may be the warmest summer ever on record for humanity,” a friend ruefully suggested while we sipped tea in shirtsleeves at an outdoor patio coffee shop in Basalt. We casually sip tea and comment on the weather as climate change brings potential catastrophe to many parts of the world.
Mountain climates seem enhanced by climate change, as a woman at the bank expressed to me later that day. She was hoping for Indian summer right through November, looking forward to a respite from dark, dreary winters.
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Her wish may come true as we experience earlier springs, hotter, but manageable, summers, and lingering autumns. Our gardens will produce more, and it will be nice to linger longer outdoors. The ski season may be shortened, but for those who feel so blessed by temperate weather, the ski season can wait.
The picture changes when we look at the world as a whole. That’s when the local benefits of climate change pale before the catastrophes that loom with every warming day. Instead of intensifying our commitment to reducing carbon output, we are lulled into momentary bliss and long-term complacency. We bask in comfort while others endure killing heat waves.
Taking on a climate-based world view is a stretch. It requires an effort to look beyond our personal gratification. Perhaps this is our greatest challenge as a species, to look beyond ourselves. Instead, we burrow into our niches and forego the sympathetic response that Darwin said is at the root of all human ethics.
As we revel in splendid warmth, our minds resist the conclusion that climate change threatens widespread social dislocation, an end to ready food supplies, a grim future for many millions. We ignore the climate refugees of tomorrow while today we bask with gratitude in the warmth. If we’re comfortable and happy, then denial of climate change is strangely natural. Why look askance at something that’s pleasurable for us? Such thinking runs contrary to human nature.
Some embrace climate change, saying it will provide benefits. I went to Google and found a list of those benefits: Arctic regions may experience more plant growth and milder climates. The next ice age may be prevented. The Northwest Passage may open. Home heating will cost less. Fewer people will freeze to death. A longer growing season could mean increased agricultural production in some areas. Boundary disputes between countries over low-lying islands will disappear because the islands will disappear.
The contrary list is far longer, beginning with the potential disruption of deep ocean currents that could irrevocably change the climate of the planet. Deserts will become drier and larger, leading to food and water shortages. There will be starvation, malnutrition and a swarm of climate refugees. There will be severe and catastrophic storms, http://geography.about.com/cs/hurricanes/a/hurricane.htm, bringing flooding, disease and deaths. There will be more air pollution, increased allergies and asthma. There will be energy spikes from cooling and more heat-related deaths. Rainfall will increase in acidity. The drying of forests will produce unprecedented fires. Skiing will be relegated only to high elevations.
There is much to contemplate with climate change, and none of it is gorgeous. Still, we revel in a warm autumn and celebrate it with superlatives. What we’re rejoicing is cognitive dissonance, the rift between perception and reality. Perhaps this is our greatest human foible, the failure to look beyond ourselves, to feel beyond our skin.
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