Tag Archive | climate change

The pure Hell of New York Summer

A few years ago a friend who lives in Las Vegas posted a photo of his car’s dash board, which displayed a temperature reading of close to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. “Still nowhere near as bad as New York City subway in the summer,” was his photo caption.

New York City survived its first major heat wave of 2019 this past weekend and survived is as good as it gets.

Public pools were kept open an extra hour, though one pool had to close during the heat wave. Large numbers of homes lost power throughout Brooklyn and Queens during some of the hottest hours of Sunday. In Times Square, where the heat index got as high as 110 degrees, my colleagues from Ask A New Yorker began frying an egg on the sidewalk.

To endure a New York City summer is to taste the atmosphere of Hades if Hades had fewer redeeming qualities. It was Sunday and the heat was high early. I couldn’t avoid doing the grocery shopping and I’d be subjected to consistent air conditioning, at least while I was indoors.

At the local supermarket, I got to the crowded parking lot and found a space on the perimeter. The blacktop of the lot was a welcoming carpet of black lava. I saw containers of recycled glass sitting by the can and bottle redemption machines. Four large tubs were filled with the smashed remains of recycled bottles. The image summarized the weekend’s heat wave. There in all the gleaming punishment its jagged shards could dish out, penned in for all to see, the shards seemed to taunt us. This is my time, the broken glass could boast to passers-by. I was born of a blast furnace and your city’s asphalt is a cool breeze in the mountains to be. How fragile you must be…

I stopped to take a photo of the glass. It was so simple yet so brutal.

“What’s wrong with my glass?” a man asked me. I turned to see a man in a blue jumpsuit with ear protection headphones on. He was collecting the recycled glass and thought maybe I was taking a photo to establish some kind of complaint. I explained it was unusual to see all the glass out of the machines like that and made for a neat photo. This was true. I decided that a parking lot in 100-degree weather was not the place to have a discussion about the murderous indifference of nature and human kind’s being at the mercy of the Earth despite our collective ability to damage it, especially as this gentleman was spending his day working in the hot sun collecting the industrial chum of the recycling machines.

The supermarket requires shoppers use a quarter to unlock a shopping cart from another. It also employs a locking system that stops someone from wheeling a shopping cart off its premises. Because I parked on the edge of the parking lot, my shopping cart locked up once I got it to my van. I loaded my groceries but now the wheels on the cart couldn’t move.

I was enraged and determined that I would get this quarter back if it was the last thing I ever did. I dragged the shopping cart across the parking lot to one of the docking stations where you can return cars without walking all the way back to the store. All the carts at the station had been self-locked and I would not be able to get my quarter back there. I dragged the cart all the way back to the store where an army of locked carts stood silently as I strained and cursed my way to redemption.

I managed to lock my shopping cart to another and retrieve my quarter from its infernal lock. I celebrated this victory by taking a photo of the quarter held aloft before the shopping cart in victory.

If I had looked closer at the photo before driving home I would have noticed my glasses inside a case on the seat. I have not yet found these glasses. Heat wave: 1, Matthew Sheahan: 0.

The crucible of summer in New York

If hell exists, it borrows heavily from New York City in the summertime. The unescapable humid heat that is magnified on the sidewalks and amplified in the subways, the crowded aggravation of our crumbling infrastructure, and the general unrest that foments rage where there might normally be annoyance or resignation, are the central ingredients of our sulphuric summer stew.

New York goes into its Independence Day holiday in the midst of one of its heat waves. The general state of the country only adds to the humid misery, with half the country protesting and demonizing the other half at light-speed intervals, new Internet outrages generated almost by the hour. It’s a dizzying spiral downward in civil discourse that fuels a blanket disgust made more maddening by temperatures that bake an already exhausted brain.

This work week is interrupted by our Independence Day holiday on July 4. Imagine putting up with all the outrages of national politics today but without air conditioning and in wool clothes, and you’ll see why the colonies revolted. In New York City today, our country’s divided politics are writ large across the city. People who once enjoyed vibrant conversation on the state of affairs skip such conversations; it doesn’t pay to engage in civil discourse, even on a personal level.

This week we will get through our work week, hoping it will be easier with so many people using the holiday for vacation. The trains will be a little less crowded, the traffic a little lighter and the sidewalks will be blazing hot but not quite as mobbed. Tourists will walk downtown past where George Washington was inaugurated (New York City was America’s first capital).

Sometimes, even though I appreciate air conditioning, I have a moment when I leave a heavily air conditioned building and feel a sense of relief and satisfaction at feeling the blanket of humid heat cover me when I step outside. It is good to feel the real world on your skin, to embrace reality no matter how unpleasant, because that’s what we are destined to do.

That is part of our story. New York gives its residents all four seasons at full blast. You will be hot, you will be cold, you will feel the full force of nature’s fury and blessings, sometimes within the same month. On the first day of Spring, New York City had a snowstorm. I would have gladly endured many more if it meant we would be spared the stifling heat of the summer months, but I knew better than to think we’d have such a lucky trade.

The crucible of summer in New York makes for stronger New Yorkers and spurs our innovation, our creativity, and our own more quiet revolution. Some of us will “embrace the suck” as the military puts it, and barrel through the overheated times with a gimlet eye towards the future.

Our destiny means we move through this overheated season with a desire to embrace the heat, to dive into the fevered truth that others work hard to avoid or shout down. The hot weather will pass, and we cannot huddle in the air conditioning forever. We have nothing to do but have pride in ourselves as New Yorkers and live summer to the fullest.

Science is usually our friend

This weekend our family attended an event called the Queens SOUP that was hosted by the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce. The event raises money for a worthwhile community group and participants vote for a winning group from among four that make presentations for projects. My wife was one of the presenters for the Flushing C.S.A.

The winning group was the Lewis H. Latimer House’s Summer Tinker Lab. Lewis Latimer was a prominent African-American scientist who contributed greatly to the invention of the light bulb and was instrumental in the spreading use of electricity. His former home is a preserved historic site in Flushing. The Latimer House’s presentation consisted of a music demonstration that allowed children to use a circuit and a laptop to make music with basic household items.

Our twins love music and it was great to watch them thrill at the discovery of the circuit concept and to have that associated with music. We want our girls to join the Tinker Lab program when they are old enough. The relatively small grant that the Latimer House received was nonetheless a victory for science.

Earlier that same day, thousands of people marched around the country in a “March for Science,” protesting the current White House’s policies that labels climate change theory as either a hoax or exaggerated. The march also looked to show disgust with the general anti-intellectual attitude that many conservative establishment politicians have tended to embrace in recent decades.  Science is great and is certainly worth of the reverence, but let’s take a look at what adhering to science means.

“Science” to me means the skilled application of learning through the empirical method of observation, experimentation, and theorization. It usually results in a consensus view among those who practice the scientific method.

Science does not abide by any values other than those used by those conducting those experiments. Dr. Jonas Salk, who discovered the polio vaccine, was a scientist. So was Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who conducted cruel experiments on victims at Auschwitz. They each made discoveries that advanced the causes of medicine, but they are rightfully not held in the same esteem by our civilization.

Science cannot be claimed as a mantle by any partisan cause. The people who “Marched for Science” this past weekend were embracing those scientific findings that supported their ideas. We may agree with those ideas, but we can’t ignore that these are values-driven at their core.

Science will ultimately thwart attempts to make it the show horse of any political movement. If the mastery of science is by itself our only measure, then J. Robert Oppenheimer should be on as many t-shirts as Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s not. And like our politics, scientific consensus is subject to change. What passes for common sense today might be considered foolhardy balderdash in a few years’ time.

So let us embrace science at every turn and let our children know it is fun. But let’s not pretend that science is always our friend. It’s going to prove us wrong at some point and leave us with very uncomfortable conclusions. But living life means facing those awkward moments and making sure your kids are prepared to face them too.

For science!

Spring arrives in February and that’s actually not good

Last week we had two days of spring weather in New York. This was less than two weeks after a snowstorm that had many office workers working from home.

Over Presidents Day weekend, I was upstate at the Mohonk Mountain House on a family vacation. My father-in-law and I decided to try our hand at skiing. Although we were skiing novices, we did well and zipped along on the daring Huguenot ski trail. As we made our way up a hillside, we came across an employee of the property who was maintaining the trails with a snowmobile. He noted that the snow was starting to soften so he was glad to be near the end of his rounds. We were lucky to have taken the opportunity to ski when we had it; the warm weather made the ski and snowshoe trails more difficult to use the following days. One day when we went to the outdoor ice rink, we found it closed with the ice having melted.

This past Saturday I took my two older daughters to a local playground and we spent most of our time outside with no jackets on at all. I was outdoors for an hour wearing nothing heavier than a short-sleeve cotton t-shirt and I was fine. The back of my big bald head even got a little sunburned.

In the office where I work, a few weeks ago some of my coworkers were using space heaters to help stay warm. This past week we opened the windows and even ran one of the air conditioners on the fan setting to circulate air. Two days I went to work without a coat (wore blazer jacket because I had meetings and because it’s still winter, damn it).

Isn’t this nice? Was the popular refrain, to which I say, “No!”

Please allow me to dump refreshingly cold water on your optimism. I may be a curmudgeon but I’m right. It’s not healthy for our part of the world to have 70-degree weather in January. If this were Florida or parts of the South or Southwest it would be another story. But February is for winter weather.

One of the benefits of living in the Northeast is getting to experience all the seasons fully. We get the best fall foliage in the world and a pleasant spring; we have both very hot summers and (usually) very cold winters.

Maybe a rare Spring-like day here and there is no big deal, but this kind of thing is happening with increased regularity and that’s not good. And I don’t mean for first-world problems like slushy ski trails and cranky middle-aged office workers. We need our seasons to keep our life in the balance it needs to be. Real-world important stuff like health and agriculture are thrown for a loop when temperatures spike unexpectedly.

I hate the heat and would rather stand in the cold until my face is hardened into a red, wind-burned grimace than be the summer sweat hog I become every year. I understand the weather gets warm and I adapt to that as best I can. At least let me have my winter.

What this may also indicate is that this year may be another record warm year and that we are due for another long, hot summer.

 

Earth Day is Not Just for Hippies Anymore

April 22 is Earth Day and no doubt many of the Earth Day observances will be obnoxious and useless. People have given environmentalism a bad name. Whether trying to tie helping the environment to New Age mysticism, linking terrorism to climate change, or comparing eating meat to the Holocaust, the mantle of environmentalism and appreciation of the Earth is a damaged one.

Just because hippies are doing it, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong or bad. Hippies were one of the first groups to organize against prohibitions against marijuana and now only the most dyed-in-the-wool authoritarian throwback wants to keep banning the weed. There are some things hippies get right, and appreciating nature is one of them, even if they do it in ham-handed and atrocious ways.

There is no American in history who embodied personal greatness and strength more than Theodore Roosevelt. And Teddy Roosevelt never met a nature preserve he didn’t like. To him, men who sat around inside all day were pussies who deserved to be thinned out of the bloodlines. Enjoying the great outdoors is a necessary part of life Roosevelt would tell you if he were still with us today, and anyone who doesn’t appreciate nature is some kind of effete nincompoop who should have no say in civic affairs. Even after he was president, at a time when most people retire to the quiet life, Roosevelt nearly died on an expedition in South America. You can go to the American Museum of Natural History today and see animals that Roosevelt went and shot so you could enjoy looking at them today.

Theodore Roosevelt would rightfully despise hippies and other layabouts but he would approve of Earth Day.

In order to appreciate the world and the great outdoors, it has to be there and in good working order. If you’ve ever gone to a favorite camping spot and found logging going on nearby, or seen heat-induced drought dry up streams in a favorite deer hunting spot, you will be drawn to the cause of the environment not matter what your politics.

Environmentalism used to be the exclusive province of more left-leaning groups, but now there is much common ground and elements on all ends of the political spectrum have found reason to embrace elements of the environmentalist movement.

And contemporary Earth Day observations will feature a lot of DIY community organizations acting independently and doing things that involve lower-cost, non-government solutions to some of our problems. For example, my wife is one of the founders of our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group, which is a cooperative that allows members to get fresh produce from a local farm. Flushing CSA is taking part in several Earth Day events, and CSA groups are one of a lot of different cooperative organizations out there that are doing very direct and helpful things outside of what is normally thought of as environmental activism.

Earth Day may still be stigmatized as a lot of nonsensical claptrap, but that’s not excuse not to do something that is helpful to the Earth. It’s what Theodore Roosevelt would do.

 

Go Beyond Your Politics to Help the Climate

This past weekend saw a very large demonstration in New York in favor of addressing climate change. Support for helping the environment is widespread and spans a lot of political and cultural chasms. You don’t need to be a climatologist to know which way the wind blows.

Even if the case for climate change is oversold, and I’m not convinced it is, the kinds of policies that are most often advocated are policies that we already largely agree are good on their own merits. It is good to lower carbon emissions because pollutants are bad and oxygen is what humans and other animals breathe. Moving towards greater adoption of renewable energy sources is a good idea from a cost savings and energy conservation standpoint already.

Real policy solutions are always going to involve embracing policies you don’t like. No political ideology have a monopoly on the facts, and one of the things that make science so great is that it will never fall completely in line with the preconceived notions of any activist party line.

So it is with climate change. If we are going to improve the environment, it’s going to mean that friends on the left and the right are going to have to embrace or at least tolerate policies that would normally be anathema to them.

Here are five points that people should look at that will be sure to irritate the normal politics of right and left, but will be important to making environmental change.

Invest in public transportation. New York is able to be the size that it is population wise because we have a real public transportation system. It is often a nightmare of ineptitude and maddening lateness and overcrowding, but it exists and millions of people are able to use it each day. Take a look at cities that have had no planning and lack a suitable public transit system for their populations. Atlanta is a morass of strip malls and traffic jams. Los Angeles is a smoggy land of idle chrome and gas fumes. New York is more competitive than these cities because it can attract people and move them around even if they don’t have enough money for a car. That cuts pollutants and allows for more economic growth.

Limit immigration. Immigration, legal or otherwise, increases carbon emissions because it increases the population of the largest carbon emitting countries. Some environmentalists understand this but in the U.S. only the most marginalized political groups are calling for any meaningful immigration reform.

Agree to expand the use of natural gas and nuclear power. Wind and solar energy are great, but we don’t have the time or the money to increase its use enough to meet our current energy needs. Even in European countries where renewable energy is at its greatest use, it still accounts for a relatively small percentage of power use. Nuclear energy allows for maximum power generated with a small amount of fuel and carbon emissions. Also, natural gas deposits in the U.S. can now be tapped with hydro-fracking. Natural gas is cleaner and it holds the possibility of making the U.S. an energy exporter.

Start holding corporate polluters accountable. If I threw a dirty diaper over the fence and onto the White House lawn, I’m pretty sure I’d be held accountable and not only charged criminally but made to foot the bill for cleaning up my mess. Yet BP took a giant oily dump in the Gulf of Mexico and it is still in business. If the U.S. Coast Guard says you still have a mess to clean up, finish the job or go broke trying. There’s nothing socialistic about asking someone to clean up their own mess. If personal responsibility is good for me, it’s good for BP and like corporate polluters.

Keep money local. Embrace capitalism and consumerism in the best way possible and support local farmers. Buy American when you can, and that includes in the vegetable isle. I’d rather keep as many dollars as I can in the U.S.A. as long as they are still worth something. Also, it takes less energy and carbon emissions the shorter distance the food has to travel to you. It may sound like some real hippie shit, but in this case the hippies are right.

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