The modern head cold is the price for an uncovered head. Even in men, bareness—hairy or clean—is thought to be sexy. It originated with the rise of both informal photography and the fashion for the outdoorsy look, culminating in President John F. Kennedy’s famous bushy mane shining in the sun of his 1961 Inauguration. (Ever since, men have shown off their less than beautiful bodies, starting with the top. How else can one explain men’s shorts?)
From the 60s on, men—young, middle-aged and even elderly—have gone hatless during rain, cold, hail and snow, whether to work or play, a fancy ball or dinner party or shuffling down to the pharmacy for Tamiflu. Nothing can get a man or boy to wear a proper fall, winter or spring hat, unless it is a sports cap, which descended from the 19th century lady’s sunbonnet—of all things—and was popularized by baseball players.
How did men get so dumb? Same reason as always. Women like—or say they like—an adult man with a full head of hair. That consists of less than 1% of men. (I exaggerate to make my point.) These gifted fellows—like JFK—started the hatless trend and dragged the rest of us—the overwhelming male majority—along for the miserable ride. Their legacy is the modern cold and flu season and its myriad futile cures.
Baldness has had a few moments in the sun, so to speak—eras when a receding hairline denoted nobility, intelligence and gravitas. Perhaps these used to be attractive to women, too. One would hope, since many females lose their youthful head of hair just as men do. Even balding women, their high receding hairlines bedecked with curls, were viewed as desirable during the 15th and 16th centuries. Unavoidably sexy, I’d say.
This brings me to the broader subject of what I call “personal climate change”. What is this? Take “personal climate”—the change over a course of years in the temperature of your personal being or immediate surroundings—and then note the dramatic “change” it has undergone over the past several decades.
Since the 1950s, two powerful trends have affected “PCC”: wardrobe and indoor temperatures. First, let us take wardrobe. Since shortly after World War II—and stemming from it—the ubiquitous fashion, particularly among the influential youth of these decades, has been to wear T-shirts almost all the time. Although originally intended as an undergarment to keep a person warm, the T-shirt became an outer garment to keep sailors and other soldiers in the tropics cool. It has now become for most people a standard item of casual dress, whether during winter or summer. Ironically, the prevalence of T-shirts among the populace serves to heighten—not lower—the perception of unusual warmth when exiting an air-conditioned building.
Which brings me to my second point. I had a visitor from the UK last summer who told me how amazed he was that so many Americans wear T-shirts all the time. To my “So what?”, he replied, “Well, it’s very cool indoors, George.” “Aaah”, I sighed with my new insight. Forget about how hot you get outdoors with so much skin exposed to the sun. Forget about raising your risk of suffering from skin cancer. Think only about how cold you can get at your office building in July, or at a mall, restaurant or movie theater. Witness, then, the birth of the summer cold. Plus, voilà! Man-Made Personal Climate Change or “MPCC”.
Therefore, I further submit that we have developed, over the last half century or so, an unconscious, or involuntary, sensitivity to outdoor temperatures during the warm and hot annual seasons. This unconscious receptivity reinforces a conscious psychic satisfaction derived from believing in man-made global warming. It feels good to believe in something you can change from “bad” to “good”.
Back in the 70s I had many spirited youthful discussions with friends about a new ice age. “What did we have to do with it?” was a common topic. Having already travelled widely by the time I was 16, I was skeptical that humans could change the course of such things as even regional climates, much less the earth’s climate. The obvious exception was a large city. I thought it arrogant and hubristic to fancy that we were so powerful a species as to be able to alter the oceans and atmosphere. It seemed a bit “flat earth” to me as well, in the absence of solid data. In the 70s, our anxieties, if any, concerned ICBMs. Mostly, however, we worried about getting a job.
In any case, the new mini Ice Age that was theorized in the mid-70s never came about, likely due to the same realities that make the planet unresponsive, even immune, to the most sophisticated computer models. Galileo and Newton had no computers, and they made great progress, so why should The University of East Anglia or the UN have made any better progress?
Rather, what has animated the debate is the sense that the world can and should be changed for the better, and science can lead the way. However, I propose an important new twist: the very public the scientists wish to persuade is unconsciously predisposed to believing them, due to their barely conscious “micro-responses” over a long period of time to real changes in their sensation of the outside temperatures, relative to inside temperatures.
Keep in mind that not everyone leaves Washington, DC in the summertime. Many policy-makers live and work in the inferno that is DC from late April to late September. I believe my theory is hiding in plain sight. It doesn’t explain everything—and I do not dispute climate change. But “MPCC” might add something to the debate about the degree of man-made causes, and the degree also that the public may go to accepting their existence. After all, it feels very hot when you wear a T-shirt all day in an air-conditioned office and then step outside into even the slightest muggy weather. “Something must be wrong” says the unconscious.
Still think I’m kidding? Consider the now common “wind chill” reported endlessly by television and radio weathermen. As a child growing up in the pre-wind chill days, I knew what a windy Arctic blast was. No one had to split the temperatures into two indices. What useless nonsense! However, folks today are as conscious—or perhaps unconscious—of the wind chill as they are of the thermometer reading. The difference is perception, and that is what I try to address in “MPCC”.
When did air conditioning become widespread? After World War II, same as T-shirts. At first it was movie theaters, restaurants and bars, especially in the South and Southwest. Soon, “AC” penetrated everywhere: houses, offices, cars, even gigantic factories that used to have windows to handle the summer heat. All those beautiful old industrial buildings are gone now.
Does “MPCC” have an impact on the perception—versus the reality—of global climate change? Perhaps so. Most people now live in treeless suburbs. These are becoming more prevalent in the southern US and southwestern US—the sunbelt. I have friends in Arizona who live for six months in what the American novelist Henry Miller prophetically called in 1945, “The Air Conditioned Nightmare.” They wake up in 70° air, enter the 70° air of their car, transit to their 70° office and then retrace the journey at 5:00 P.M. If they go out, it isn’t outdoors, but to an air conditioned restaurant or movie theater. Even the MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks play in Chase Field, a fully air-conditioned ballpark bathing over 48,000 people in a gigantic cloud of artificially cooled vapor.
If scientists and serious-minded citizens consider the global warming phenomenon and ask themselves, “Is our environment becoming hotter?”, they might come to a positive conclusion a bit more often if they were raised in a society that has shielded them from normal exposure to summer’s heat.
Most people would think this idea bizarre. However, remember “wind chill”. The perception of the temperature is often different from the measurement of it. When accustomed to cool air, any warmth is “hot”. Therefore, it may not be a stretch to consider that our receptivity over the past 30 years to the veracity of the global warming trend would be caused by the fact that we actually experience the outdoors as being warmer now than what we felt as children.