Paul Andersen: Living in personal climate bubbles
It was one of the last hot days of summer. At Whole Foods, a car at the curb sat idling with a dull roar. Inside, with the tinted windows rolled tight, a woman reclined in the driver’s seat, a cellphone pressed to her ear.
The car’s AC was running full bore, cooling the woman in the driver’s seat. It was like she was in a space capsule or a submarine.
There is a law against idling in Basalt, but this driver was oblivious to the irony of keeping herself cool in her car while warming the atmosphere outside her glass-and-steel cocoon. On that hot summer day, convenience was all that mattered.
The desire for convenience is behind most of popular technology, and consumers are willing and able to pay whatever the costs. Convenience is the means by which to abolish stress and strain, happily allowing machines to do the work of making life easy and comfortable.
And why not? Science and industry provide, and we all reap the benefits. The woman chillin’ in her car portends a fretful future where the goal of human existence is the assurance of ease and comfort in technological wombs of our own — at any cost.
Idle the car to keep cool in one’s glass-and-steel capsule while outside the temperature climbs toward meltdown. Remove moral and ethical conflicts by putting comfort and convenience above all. Adapt to climate change by sealing out a torrid atmosphere made unlivable by the very technology upon which we depend — a closed loop of convenience and crisis.
This idling driver was fiddling while Rome burns, ignoring climate change in the comfort of her car, blind to her contribution. We have become so fatalistic about the inevitability of climate change that ironic behavior is accepted as routine.
The president of the United States disavows climate change and negates individual responsibility, and so does the American public. The myopic chief executive offers the perfect excuse for following the course of least resistance by ignoring and denying social responsibility. That’s what it means to be an American today.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman pointed this out recently when he wrote that Mother Nature deserves a place on upcoming ballots in the hopes that nature finds support at the polls. Friedman described Mother Nature as if she were the Wicked Witch of the West.
“Oh, you didn’t notice me tapping on your shoulder these past few years?” Friedman wrote. “OK. Well, how about a little fire, Scarecrow? How about this:
“How about I bake Europe, set the biggest wildfire California has ever seen and more active wildfires — 460 in one day — than British Columbia has ever seen, and also start the worst forest fires in decades in Sweden, even extending north of the Arctic Circle where temperatures this month reached 86 degrees.
“Meanwhile, I’ll subject Japan to the heaviest rainfall it’s ever recorded, and then a couple weeks later the highest temperature it’s ever recorded — 106 degrees in Kumagaya, northwest of Tokyo. And for a punctuation mark, I’ll break the heat record in Death Valley, reaching 127 degrees, and burn the worst drought in living memory into Eastern Australia, where the BBC last week quoted a dairy farmer as saying, ‘It’s gotten to the point where it’s cheaper to shoot your cows than it is to feed them.’”
Friedman is a powerful voice for climate change, but with a caveat. According to Wikipedia, he “lives in a home five times larger than the average American home.” He provides carbon offsets, but he exemplifies a common theme in Aspen where the entitlements of wealth defer ethical judgment for conspicuous consumption in trophy homes appointed with energy-gulping amenities.
For those living in hot climates, the growing trend is to live indoors, venturing out only when the weather is accommodating. In the near future lies the dystopian vision of domed cities whose atmosphere is filtered and temperature controlled.
That will make the quest for a colonial outpost on Mars seem reasonable, because we will already be living in climate bubbles on a planet that mankind is turning from blue to red.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.