Time and Temperature

At the tone, the time will be 10:25 and 30 seconds. The temperature is 38 degrees.

Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, you had to call the local Time & Temperature phone number in order to find out how cold or hot it was outdoors. I remember calling Time & Temperature compulsively as a kid. I just wanted to know what to expect and how to dress. Ohio weather is mercurial. One week it is sunny and in the 70s, and the next week it snows.

True winter—January-February winter—is bitterly cold in Ohio, whether it snows or not. True confession:  in the dead of true winter, I secretly welcome the idea of climate change. I picture the arctic blast that weather forecasters delight in illustrating with big swirls heading toward Michigan, missing Ohio entirely. But I know climate change is not as simple as a less frigid winter. I know the consequences.

Climate change pisses me off. If you haven’t been listening to scientists, you are willfully ignorant and that pisses me off. I’ve got a whole lot of bones to pick with my congressman (that’s Rep. Bob Gibbs, if you want to say hi for me) about issues that seem pretty straightforward and non-controversial—from gun control (how much more proof do you need?) to Citizen’s United (really?)—but none more based in common sense than climate change. I want to grab the man by his collar and tell him to snap out of it. Do something, anything, for your grandkids, for god’s sake.

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I vaguely remember the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. I think our elementary school went down to the Olentangy River to clean the trails and collect water samples. I’m pretty sure the county had already moved the river to accommodate a new freeway. In my nine-year-old head, it seemed unfathomable that a river could be moved. But they had pushed it east and straightened it, and added a single row of rocks from one side of the river to the other to resemble, bleakly, shallow rapids. (I read a report from 2002 that the volume and diversity of wildlife and fish still had not recovered, some 30 years later.)

On that first Earth Day, we were still thinking about how the Cuyahoga River caught on fire the year before — another unfathomable feat in my mind; how does water catch on fire? We were thinking about air and water pollution and unregulated factories and oil spills. Although scientists had been talking about it since the late 19th century, climate change and global warming were not in the public vernacular on that first Earth Day. Instead, if I recall correctly, we sang “If I had a Hammer” in choir. All the damage seemed fixable then. Even the river fire.

 

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“At the tone, the time will be oops and zero seconds. The temperature is a billiony degrees.”

The National Climate Assessment predicts this for the Midwest: “Extreme heat, heavy downpours, and flooding will affect infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, air and water quality, and more. Climate change will also exacerbate a range of risks to the Great Lakes.”

Huge rainfalls washed out crops in Pigspittle last June. According to the National Weather Service, areas of Ohio saw anywhere from 25 percent to more than 100 percent more rainfall than average that month. And then late summer? Near drought. When you get heavy rain, the water runs off, doesn’t sink into the ground, and then heat evaporates it.

This week, more than 200 nations and more than 30,000 diplomats are working on an agreement to slow the damage. President Obama and leaders from across the world are gathered at the 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris. Yet, as the New York Times reported, “Already, a series of analyses have concluded that the best deal that could emerge from Paris would most likely cut emissions by only about half the level needed to avert the worst effects. That would leave a Paris deal as a step forward to solving climate change, but not the solution in and of itself.”

I’ll admit it. I am worried. And I don’t even have kids. I listen to the news and the top story is some stupid thing that Donald Trump has said —AS IF, 1) Donald Trump’s stupidity is news, and 2) the god damn glaciers aren’t melting into the sea way faster than anyone predicted.

While we can do our part by recycling, driving less, and consuming less power, the real game change is on the shoulders of our leaders in Paris. Previous talks over the last 20 years — in Kyoto and Copenhagen— resulted in no progress. As the NYT reported, “If the Paris talks collapse or end in failure, it may be many years before world leaders try to negotiate a similar deal.”

This lovely place we inhabit is collapsing under our weight. We have asked too much of the trees, the bees, the rivers. Over the last 200 years, we have mined coal, drilled for oil, converted the dead things of the earth into energy and then thrown it all into the sky, expecting it to dissipate.  We are like children, ignorant of the fragile mortality around us.

“Extreme heat, heavy downpours, and flooding will affect infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, air and water quality, and more.” Emphasis mine. When scientists say “and more,” they could be thinking about the troubles ahead for civil society. Consider the battle for water rights, the exponential rise in energy use as higher temperatures require more air conditioning that results in greater emissions, the deaths among seniors living in warmer climates with rising oceans, the migrations of those who can afford to move and the resulting poverty zones they leave behind like dustbowls.

Snap out of it, America.

At the tone, the time will be over.

11 Comments Time and Temperature

  1. Laissez Faire December 2, 2015 at 4:05 am

    Oh, I had forgotten about the number to call about time and temperature! I remember that. I also remember trying to get my mom to reduce, reuse, and recycle and she thought I was a crazy person. Who had time to separate bottles and cans? She didn’t start doing it until it was pretty much mandatory.

    Reply
  2. egoebelbecker December 2, 2015 at 11:06 am

    Let’s not forget Jeb Bush proudly announcing he would have skipped Paris. There are those would have preferred to roast marshmallows on the Cuyahoga.

    I remember calling time and temperature too, and vaguely remember the first Earth Day in Elementary School.

    Reply
  3. Natalie DeYoung December 3, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    I am shaking my fist at the sky. In California we have already reaped the effects of this, yet people still feel able to turn a blind eye?

    Reply
  4. c2avilez December 3, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    I had also forgotten about time and temperature. 🙂 I love the way you tied that to your subject and ended with “at the tone the time will be over.” I read recently that climate scientists have a high rate of depression. I wonder at the people we (collectively speaking) choose to listen to. What does Jeb Bush have to contribute on the matter, or Donald Trump, or Ted Cruz? Why listen to politicians with ties to oil over scientists? I’ve never understood.

    Do you remember the ozone hole? Remember the fight? How somehow we managed to get a ban on CFCs? I came across an article recently predicting what the world would have been like if we hadn’t managed to come to a consensus on this issue. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/WorldWithoutOzone/page2.php

    Now extrapolate that to the climate change discussion. The deniers are loud and proud, but have no data to back them up. We need to be louder.

    Reply
  5. ellenbehm December 3, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    Add me to the list of the Time and Temperature phone line obsessed. I grew up in Texas, and don’t remember the first Earth Day (and not because I’m too young). Maybe Texas’ idea of Earth day is “What can we take out of it” Day.

    I’m hearing the deniers saying right now that the Paris climate talks are the left’s response to the Paris attacks by ISIS. Really? Do they ever listen to themselves?

    Reply
  6. Amy Bee December 3, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    Ditto on the time and temperature. Your essay has such a nice progression, I just flow along all the way to the end.

    Reply
  7. become-the-villain December 3, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    I really appreciated your piece on this. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the people who need to hear this the most will ignore it. I don’t understand the willful ignorance; it is scary and unbelievably maddening.

    Reply
  8. Chef's Last Diet December 3, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    I too recall the first Earth Day, as do most of the people running for president. I read somewhere recently that Republicans consider climate change a religion.

    Reply
  9. Chenille December 4, 2015 at 3:20 am

    As someone in environmental science who works for the government, I can tell you how extremely frustrating it is to overcome the political bullshit to get people to see the truth, the reality of the situation. We can’t stop climate change. It’s too late for that. All we can do now is prepare to feel the earth’s wrath in response to all the bad shit we’ve done to it.

    Reply
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