Man-Made Personal Climate Change

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.

This entry was posted on Friday, February 19th, 2010 at 8:17 am and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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15 Responses to “Man-Made Personal Climate Change”

  1. You have hit the “nail on the head” so to speak!!!! I totally agree. I am 79 and have found this to be very true.

    Alice

  2. Maddie Stretch said:

    After reading your article on MMPCC, and thinking about how I usually talk with younger folks about things when I was their age (I’m 57, grew up in Nashville when it started out rural/early suburbs, no air conditioning, window fans, sticking to the sheets at night with metal screens to keep out the skeeters, a coal furnace in the winter that would BURN YOUR FEET if you stood on it too long in the living room, and memories of sleeping on my grandmammy’s porch on a cot to cool off when we went visiting every weekend during the heat of the summer). I remember when the climate seemed to change (even at my altered state of mind back in 1972 ) when instead of wintery months beginning in around Halloween, they lagged behind until well into the new year and even sometimes February. Rains instead of snows that started being more noticable by me in 1971. But my remarks of “we used to get snow as late as when the dogwoods bloomed” meant to me sometime around April, or even May. The locals knew not to plant their tomato’s until after Memorial Day. Now I find myself pushing the envelope at late March.
    Kids look at me all goofy when I remark how soft they are when the schools close for a quarter inch of snow, because when I went to school (and since living in the city and a mile and quarter from my junior high and high school) I could ride the school bus, if the bus was an hour late, then we didn’t have to go to school that day, and usually went to school in almost a foot of snow. (Tennessee, not Michigan where I was told by my former husband school didn’t close unless the snow and drifts were over six FEET) And we were ALLOWED to wear snow pants (hateful wool things) and that was it. Otherwise for us girls, drafty dresses, skirts, garter belts and hose but usually in winter, knee socks…….LOL
    Tee shirts? I was forced to wear UNDERSHIRTS until the end of May because my mother grew up in the country during the 20′s and 30′s in a house that only had a wood stove as heat, and no insulation in the walls! The water came in a pump, if that, or you went to the creek (literally) and brought buckets of it to put into the wooden barrels on the porch. And the bathroom was the five holer across the pasture! So I sweated horribly with cotton undershirts until May 31st no matter what.
    Yes, the last two generations have grown up softer. I still am the last one to turn on the air in the house because I tend to like fresh air blowing through the windows. I had many arguements with former husband about that, due to my liking raised windows until it was sticky humid. And since our new home here in a part of my home state I’ve never experienced before has five huge willow oaks about 15 feet from the back of the house on the west side, I know as a gardener that trees do their job in Summer. It’s at LEAST 20 degrees cooler underneath those trees than just outside the canopy.
    Something else…..we used to sweat. It’s what our bodies do to cool us off, or make us drink water when we were hot. Other than the overly obcessed touchiness of folks about personal fragrances, when did some get so sensitive to the normal functions of how we’ve evolved? I’m a gardener. I go outside for hours in the heat, with a hat on, because my grandmammy taught me that a woman needed a “bonnet” to protect her skin. And my hat shelters my little knob, part of my fizzog and my ears where I can’t see if the evils of the sun’s intentions on skin cancer are quietly making melanoma on the backs of my lobes. When I work outside in the heat, I sweat. It’s normal. I started out clean, and given that I’ve noticed an unusual amount of overly LARGE horse flies here in Western Tennessee where I’m now learning to garden, (I remember WHY horse flies BITE, so I am aware of myself a wee bit more here than where I came from, Eastern Tennessee where I gardened for 18 years after leaving Middle Tennessee in 1992). I JUST got an e-mail from a friend in East Tennessee drawing attention to my wedding photo on Facebook to the fact that my English husband had visible sweat on his shirt. Sigh…………yes, Virginia, there ARE sweat glands…..(which are what women’s breasts are if one were to think about biology, and what milk was…..highly concentrated forms of sweat LOL learned that one in Everything you always wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask” and that got me in trouble with the sex ed. teacher! LOL)
    Thanks for making me realize there are more of us out there amused by the ever growing softness of the generations beneath us. I only slather on “Bullfrog” sun screen on my hands because I have vitiligo and it’s prone to cancer now with no pigment to protect me. Other than that, a stranger in the crowd can tell I garden by my tan and freckles……I don’t worship the sun, I garden. Again, thanks, for showing me there is someone else observing things I have been talking about for the last decade or two within my garden friends circle. I always enjoy your writings and musings.
    Maddie

  3. Tom Orgain said:

    Thanks for the insightful article!

  4. Steve McNew said:

    You have a point – Fans, or shade on the front porch (regularly 10 deg. cooler than the back/South) did fine. I didn’t even have a refrigerator till about 1983. Did just fine. And in the summer as well as winter, thick wool socks inside work shoes. I remember people asking me if it wasn’t hot – it wasn’t. This week, it’s still in the upper 60s indoors, saving some fuel, and wearing a sweater. No heat to bedrooms – we have blankets and comforters, and snuggle!

  5. Venessa said:

    I have never read a better essay on the weather issue. I loved it.

  6. Chrystel said:

    Coming from a job where I worked inside all day to working summers at a greenhouse in Cincinnati (think 90 degrees and 90% humidity all the time outdoors!), I’ve become a lot more accustomed to being hot. This has increased my tolerance and ambivalence about heat, and the summers are actually much more enjoyable down here now that I’ve acclimated. Good article!

  7. Valerie Alexander said:

    You raise a good point.

    I’ve been wondering if the real AGW effect comes from the heat given off by our cars, refrigerators, and heaters. After all, we burn and release not just gas, but the energy from the sun that was stored in coal and oil. It seems to me that the major effects we have from heating our surroundings might be found in … cities.

    Sure enough, there is an urban heat effect, it just isn’t big enough to matter. So, actually releasing the stored energy itself is nothing to worry about, but the less-reactive end product, a minor greenhouse gas, is?

    Nahhhh.

  8. Barbie said:

    I enjoyed your essay too! Being about the same age as Maddie I found a lot to identify with, though I grew up in highly-developed SoCal where there was no snow to contend with, only heat waves in October where you went to school in, sometimes, 105 degree weather and sat in un-airconditioned classrooms with all of the windows open. One neighbor had an A/C unit on a stand and it was quite the novelty.

    Living in south central VA now (heat zone 8, the hottest part of the state) we are the last to turn on our A/C (usually make it to July) and we turn it off for periods in the summer when heat and humidity are less intense. I know our neighbors think we’re strange because we sit on our front porch day and night (in all seasons but winter) rather than indoors. We have a very shady garden and spend a lot of time there too. Visitors universally enjoy the way it looks but often don’t want to hang out there for long because it’s still hotter than indoors and there are bugs, heaven forbid.

    Our house buying strategy always dictates that large and plentiful trees in the yard and lots of windows in the house are the paramount variables in selection. Living in an old house we appreciate the wisdom of the architects and builders of an earlier time. All of the screened porches/sunrooms in our 1920s-1930s neighorhood have these additions on the east side, so they’re comfortable at the hottest parts of the day and cooled-off at night. Likewise, our large front porch is designed to be blocked by a wall of the house from the late afternoon sun. I don’t know if modern developers take these kinds of things into account (doubt they do).

    To put it more succinctly, I love summer but loathe going anywhere (work, shopping, restaurants) then because of the artificial chill. I have to take a long-sleeved shirt or sweater with me everywhere. At home I can dress for the climate in tank tops because I’m outside whenever I can be and we don’t turn our A/C below 80 degrees when it is running.

    I know I’m coming across as an old crank but that’s the way it goes. Keep it up George!

  9. Patty said:

    I enjoy reading your column and pass it on to friends.

    Patty, in N. Louisiana

  10. Stacey said:

    That was beautiful! What a great writer! Too True! Too True! Bravo!

  11. Donna Weber said:

    George,

    Another amazingly perceptive entry! Coming from Chicago…you know a lot about Arctic air blasts!regards, Donna

  12. Caroline Yourcheck said:

    I am extremely passionate about gardening and physical fitness/activity. I hold a B.S in Biology and and MBA in marketing. I am also, an ACE certified personal trainer and close to completing my Master Gardeners Certification at Rutger Cooperative Extension in Middlesex County, New Jersey. I am in the process of writing a book that combines my obsession with gardening with my desire for health and physical fitness. I am hoping to motivate people to either start gardening as a form of daily physical fitness vs going to a hot stuffy fake environment like a gym. Also I would like to show experienced gardeners how to increase the intensity in their garden order to increase their strength, stamina, and burn many more of calories. Lastly, I want to show how gardening goes above and beyond providing physical/health benefits to the gardener. It also provides psychological, economic, environmental and social benefits as well. My book is NOT like other books I have read about fitness and gardening that recommend performing exercises in the garden (squats, lunges ect.), THIS IS A WHOLE NEW, CURRENT and SEXY CONCEPT-( have incorporated the Biophilia Theory, which is new and exciting). I am calling my book “PowerGardening…lose weight & weeds! The reason I am writing to you is because I am not a writer. I know the general public is ready for a book like this! This week I began working with an acquaintance who is bright and has done some professional writing for fitness magazines. The problem is, is she has never gardened and is squimish about gardening??? I would like to get my book written so that I can get it to an agent or have it self-published it. I recently attended a seminar in NYC: How to get you book published” being conducted by Larry Kirshbaum, an accomplished publisher and now agent. He said he will take a look at what I have already written and get back to me. Because I am not a talented writer, I’m sure he will think the concept is fresh and new- but I am certain, he will not be impressed with the quality of writing. I was hoping you might be able to offer me advice since you are a wonderful writer, share the same passion for gardening as I, and might even be able to recommend a writer who might be interested in partnering with me on my book. I would like to send you an email with attachments of what I have already written. If you are interested, please send me your email address. The email address from which you will receive this information is: caroline.yourcheck@sanofi-aventis.com. Thank you kindly, Caroline Yourcheck

  13. Dennis Varza said:

    As a Biologist and a Gardener I spend a lot of time out doors.
    I found the ones that complain most about the weather spent the least amount of time in it.

  14. I have been saying the same things for years though in much less scientific terms. When I moved into my current house the first thing I did was ask the landlord to add ceilings fans in every room. People used to think I was crazy when I was watching my grandchildren because I did not turn my air conditioning on because I wanted to be able to hear my grandchildren playing in the back yard. Look at how most new houses are built without windows on the sides – no cross breeze. I overheard one mother talking to her children telling them, “Absolutely not! “You may not wait on the front porch for Mary to pick you up in the morning, it’s too hot. This was in June.

    I have never understood the popularity of T-shirts, because of the reasons stated in the article as well as many others – they just aren’t that attractive on most people. Another thing I don’t get is the practice of men being required to wear suits in summer. People look at me in my long dresses and think I must be hot in summer. They could not be further from the truth. The ones I wear in summer are made of lightweight airy fabrics that breath – not polyester. In winter I wear a heavier weight and dress in layers including black long underwear tops and bottoms when the weather calls for it. And, I recently discovered capes/shawls. They were in style this year but as with long dresses, even when they are far out of style, I will be wearing them.

    I have often said that air conditioning is one of the major reasons that children are getting outside less and less. So into any, especially upper scale, neighborhood on a beautiful day in July when the temperature has cooled down to mid seventies by a recent rain and – even if the people have come outside, you will hear the air conditioners going. Another thing I’ve never understood is why air conditioning unites are usually place in back of the house near a patio or deck.

    One thing that there seems to be less of to go around these days is “common sense.” To people who grew up without air conditioning, it is commons sense that you want shade trees around you house and build houses with widows all around to create cross breeze opportunities. It’s common sense that you open the windows at night and in the morning close the windows and pull the shades or blinds on windows that are not shaded. It’s common sense that you would not build a house with a deck on the west side, unless it was shaded by a large tree, where it will be in the heat of the sun in the evening when you are likely to want to use it. And, it is common sense that fans make you feel cooler. The schools are air conditioned. When I go inside in warm weather, at first if feels cooler but after a few minutes inside, it feels stuffy and then hot because my body us used to the air movement that is going on outside on even the hottest days.

    I could go on and on but I have volunteers coming.
    Roberta

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