Monday, July 24, 2006

Soft and Hot

Don't worry. Despite the suggestive title, this post is rather tame. I'm even going to step away from my 1st and 2nd loves of foreign affairs & Bush bashing. Instead, I want to comment on the latest heat wave, the resulting power crunch in California, and the implications of both.

I live in SW Florida, so I must confess that I prefer it hot. I happen to like a 80 degree Christmas Day where I can do some fishing before sunset. And I'm fine with 98 degrees and 100% humidity around here in July. As a teenager I sometimes worked in a palm grove on such summer days and, while it was a little rough, I survived and even earned some extra cash "Mexican" style too. Only during a trip to what is just about my favorite place in the world, Costa Rica, did I begin to find it uncomfortably hot as the temeprature neared 110. But even then - amidst such beautiful distractions - the sun was far from being the hottest thing around!

So personally I'm fine with this global warming thing. However, I realize the issue is much broader than my personal hope of never seeing snow again. And I'm starting to wonder if there isn't something to the ideas that people like Al Gore have been talking about for years afterall. I haven't seen his movie, nor have I seriously studied the research. Therefore, I won't offer an uninformed opinion. Yet, as a layman, it does seem like I've witnessed a real climate change during my short lifetime.

OK - that's the hot part. Now for the soft. Watching the news makes me consider how soft we've become here in America in general. California is facing rolling blackouts once again in the wake of a heat wave. With temperatures today expected to reach 106 in Sacramento and 110 in the San Fernando Valley, Southern California Edison is reporting record energy use. Officials say they have no choice but to turn the power off if individuals won't turn the power down. In fact, Monday's usage was 15% higher than the peak day of use in 2005 and 26% higher than the peak day of use during the California energy crisis of 2000-2001.

Why is it that Americans (I'm not going to single out Californians) can't turn down the A/C when Israelis and Lebanese can live for weeks in small, smelly, and hot underground bomb shelters? Why is it that we have more problems going the 5 minute drive drive to the grocery store without running our car's A/C on high than Iraqis do making the life-or-death walk to the outdoor market during daily bombings?

I think it must be merely because we can. It's the same reason gasoline consumption hasn't dropped in spite of record high pump prices. And although we're not alone, we are probably the world's leader in this department. This is even a sore subject in my own household. Whereas I tend to keep the thermostat around 82, my wife prefers it at 78....if I'm lucky. She is 7 months pregnant, so I usually let her win that little argument. But still I occasionally consider the thousands of Israeli, Lebanese, and Iraqi pregnant women who only dream of a cool night of good sleep and feel just slightly guilty.

It also reminds me of a recent visit to my son's pediatrician. While we waited to get his school physical, I overheard a fellow parent complain to the receptionist of how uncomfortably hot it was in the waiting room. The staffer walked around the counter to examine the thermostat which was on the wall near our seats. It was set to 77 degrees. As she then lowered the setting to 72 degrees, the receptionist apologized to us suffering parents, "That's why it's hot so hot in here. Someone must have raised it. I'm sorry about that."

Don't misinterpret my intentions. I'm not bashing America. Afterall, no nation is perfect and most others have problems that dwarf our own. And I still thank God that I was born an American (that is, if I couldn't be a Costa Rican Tico!). But I do think there's something to the idea that we've become soft as a people. And not being able to turn down the A/C or live without that 8 cyclinder gas-guzzler might indeed be signs.

In conclusion, Tom Brokaw's simple, yet excellent, book The Greatest Generation comes to mind. The author's thesis was that the hardships of the Great Depression made American society strong enough to overcome the greatest challenge Western Civilization ever faced in World War 2. Makes sense. But will such a book ever be written about this generation? Or about the previous one? Or the next one? I dunno. Time will tell. I do know that this slow dial-up connection is really pissing me off and I wish Starbucks was still open because I'm thirsty. However, I'm not sure those inconveniences are book-worthy!


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