December 22, 2004

Exposure

Is it fear or exhilaration that makes us in late December more keenly aware of tomorrow's weather? This is a concern, a self-interest that not all of our city friends can feel with us, nor do they entirely understand why we would put ourselves in such exposure to the vagaries of climate as we endure here at our own choice.

We heat with wood that we cut ourselves from our valley. We don't have air conditioning. We try to grow our own vegetables as the weather will allow. Our road becomes impassable in flood or blizzard. I suppose some would say we have romantic attachments to a simpler way of living. It is true we do find pleasure in adapting our rhythms to the season's vagaries. We are full-immersion types; a sprinkling of autumn or winter somehow doesn't seem efficacious in our relationship with the land.

But why, in this modern age, should the weather matter? With the exception of natural disasters, most Americans can control their comforts at the flip of a dial and give it not another thought. After all, isn't climate-independence a measure of our civilized victory over the elements and something we have worked long and hard to accomplish for our species?

In the same way that one suburb is unrecognizable from another with the homogenization of our neighborhoods, climate control takes the unpredictable extremes out of our personal weather. We travel and rest in constants and sneak glances of change out our window, perhaps, from time to time. No small wonder, then, that too many think too little of the threat of global climate change: it's the out-there weather, after all. Our season-free in-here bubble of constant comfort need not change.

The weather has become a reality show that has its own channel on television. I can't help but think that this kind of let-them-eat-cake meteorological snobbery and detachment from seasonal change may be part of the problem with our politicians who yet again have spurned international efforts to confront what is probably the single most important environmental issue of our time.

I fear it won't be long before they, too, will feel the heat.

Posted by fred1st at December 22, 2004 07:34 AM | TrackBack
Comments

It could simply be a leftover instinct from our past, when failure to pay close attention to the weather was likely to lead to death.

Posted by: Chris [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 22, 2004 08:43 AM

I wanted to heat with wood for a long time. We did it in Alaska, but then THIS life settled in and seems to suit us. Sometimes we live closer to the detachment you're talking about. We do have central heat and air, but the key, for me, is to keep it down in the cheaper zones. It's like we're anticipating the days when we won't be able to afford much heat. We've kept the ceiling fan in the hallway, though it's ancient and has been condemned by several technicians, because until it's over 85 outside, we don't turn the regular central air on.

And, let's face it, Fred. You DO have heat. That mansion I lived in in Nepal did not, except for tiny little electrical heaters you sort of huddle around.

And there's the other issue that I'd love for you and your readers to comment upon. Until central air conditioning, the South was a wasteland of ailing plantations, dying towns, and small and dirty industry. Now we've got revitalized Atlanta and Birmingham, charming Charleston and Savannah. The New South needs air conditioning. Or does it?

You live in a cold valley up there, Fred, surrounded by the trees you need to heat in winter. Though it might seem there's enough land for all of us to withdraw to it, enough derelict old houses that we could find to inhabit in the hinterlands, there isn't enough for everyone to live the way you do.

What do you suggest? I have some thoughts, but I'll let you talk first.

Posted by: trish at December 22, 2004 08:45 AM

I think the bottom line would have two points:

First, we have lost all account of the actual cost of our comfort. Certainly there is nothing wrong with being cool in the middle of an Alabama August. But we have lost sight of what we give up to get that cool and consistently pleasant environment. The states of Kentucky and West Virginia have become national sacrifice areas to provide "cheap" coal to make the electricity that powers our central air.

Second, we have undervalued the "environmental services" that natural systems provide: the oxygen produced by land that still bears forest instead of asphalt, the buffering of CO2 by a healthy ocean, the protective function of the atmosphere free of greenhouse gases. We have failed to understand the incredible value provided by natural systems that we, sadly, take for granted--until they are going, or gone.

I in no way suggest our lifestlye as ideal or appropriate universally. I do, however, feel that as one so blessed to have been brought to this place to live in closer contact with the seasons, the land, and our belonging in and to them, there is a responsibility to share what I find is a "smaller footprint" understanding of human-nature relationships.

There must be a middle ground between hedonistic demand for comfort at all cost and a return to the cave. I don't claim to have found it, but I certainly think about it a good bit, and hope perhaps the conversation in the blogging community might be a small part of the change that will bring us back to understanding our true place in this world.

Posted by: fred1st at December 22, 2004 09:11 AM

As a boy I spent 3 years in Ghana in the 1950's.

Our fishing lodge, on the seashore and the equator was a building designed to be cool in a very hot and humid environment. The Ground floor was all store room. The Living quarters were on the first floor. A Verandah was cantilevered out all around this floor doubling the space. Screens were on all the outside wall - this was the "White Man's grave" with a very virulent form of malaria. Many of the internal walls were screened as well. The off shore and inshore breezes naturally flowed in and out of the building.

In the air-conditioning, central heating era, I think that we have forgotten how to design buildings to do well in extreme climates.

Posted by: Robert Paterson at December 22, 2004 09:47 AM

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