Saturday, July 29, 2006
Is there a candidate smart enough to seize on this?
Note the promise of the last sentence in the penultimate
paragraph--the question is whether there are any candidates smart
enough to see the potential of making a sane response to global
warming Public Issue #1
It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Stupidity
Published: July 29, 2006
San Anselmo, Calif.
I WENT to see “An Inconvenient Truth” last weekend, but the theater was
closed. The power was out because of an overheated transformer. It was
Day 9 of our 11-day, record-melting heat wave here in the San Francisco
Bay Area, where Mark Twain once supposedly, but probably apocryphally,
compared our foggy summer to the coldest winter he’d ever known.
The fog — the Coast’s natural air-conditioner — kept failing to arrive,
however, as we sweltered in triple-digit heat. I briefly remembered the
single night I’d hated the fog, freezing in extra innings at Candlestick
Park. But mostly I recalled the sheer wonder of watching it spill over
sun-struck mountains, summer after summer, and I yearned for its return.
Where had it gone?
I’d just returned from a week in a Mexican desert to find it several
degrees hotter at home, in a marathon that meteorologists have called
unprecedented. My 7-year-old’s skin was so warm that I took his
temperature. A neighbor had to shut down the emergency sprinkler system
at his house, which, sensing fire, was about to douse his furniture. The
water scalded his hands.
Inland, where incomes are lower and temperatures normally higher, the
elderly and infirm have been quietly dying in their overheated
apartments and cars, sometimes slumped in front of running fans.
Yesterday, state authorities were blaming the heat for more than 130 deaths.
Certainly, it was nothing compared to the 2003 killer heat wave in
Europe, which led to tens of thousands of deaths, and yes, we know that
much of the rest of the country is suffering hot weather too. But it was
our heat wave, and we hated it just the same. Power failures left
hundreds of thousands of Bay Area customers cursing Pacific Gas and
Electric in the dark. One repairman reported that his crewmen had just
installed a fresh transformer and were taking a break, sipping some
Gatorade, when he watched their work explode into sparks.
Local meteorologists offered clashing opinions about why the fog stayed
away, but they agreed that the culprits included a mass of warm air that
shifted northward from the Four Corners and parked over the Great Basin.
Part of this high-pressure air mass extended over California’s coast,
tamping down the cool sea breezes. The days were scorching, the nights
sticky and hot.
The San Francisco Chronicle published an article headlined “Scientists
Split on Heat Wave Cause,” which said some climate experts attributed
the heat wave “at least partly” to global climate change. “Others,
however, disagree,” the article continued, “and say it’s still too early
to blame the current weather on the planet’s changing climate.”
This made me wonder: when will it be too late? I get it that you can’t
blame climate change for any one weather event. But I can also see that
there’s a pattern emerging — and it sure looks a lot like what
mainstream scientists have been predicting for several years. They’ve
been warning of more frequent and severe heat waves and warmer nighttime
temperatures that rob you of any relief. You don’t really need a
climatologist to know which way the wind is blowing.
“It’s so hot,” my friends and I say to one another. “It’s scary.” And we
“Aren’t you scared?” I asked my husband.
“Sure,” he said, and went back to watching the A’s.
I know he’s mentally healthier than I. Twain, after all, also is
supposed to have said that everyone complains about the weather but
nobody ever does anything about it. At the time, his comment was pithy
and wise. But times have changed: a consensus of leading scientists
suggests the world has a chance of stalling climate change if we make
deep and immediate reductions in our fossil fuel consumption. This would
take some leadership, but I’d put my children in day care and work full
time for someone with that kind of vision, and I’d bet parents across
the country would do the same.
The fog finally rolled inland on Thursday. But the clock is still tick- ing.
Katherine Ellison is the author of “The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood
Makes Us Smarter.’’