The sound of a billion screaming tea kettles


When it gets really cold, I get mad. I get mad at myself for living in Minneapolis, mad at my ancestors who purposely moved here (probably in the summer, with stupid grins on their faces), and mad that I can’t do much about it, except put on another layer. After the last really cold winters I remember, ’95-’96 and ’96-’97, I left the state for one year. I moved to Seattle, where I experienced winter temperatures in the 40’s and rain. I haven’t been mad at all this year, because the Minnesota winter of 2006-2007 has had temperatures in the 40’s and rain.

This year’s warm winter is only the most recent of a string of reasons that global warming has been simmering in my mind. For more than a few years now, the information has been cooking and condensing and coagulating, only recently rendering some opinions on the subject. My primary realization is this: as the American population keeps moving south, like lemmings in search of a January tan, I’m staying put. I figure the middle of a continent is just about the safest place to be, as long as you’re not standing in the middle of a lake. Thin ice is dangerous, but easy to avoid. A hurricane is the kind of danger that chases you down.

It took a lot of pressure over time to form that little thought because it isn’t easy to sift through the conflicting messages, the political rhetoric, the conspiracy theories and doomsday scenarios. But I don’t think I’m alone. I think the inundation of information is waking people up to our warm new reality, which is made so much easier to believe when mid-winter snows melt in Minnesota. Alarms are going off in people’s heads, like the heating atmosphere setting off a billion screaming tea kettles.

It’s possible this is happening because there are things about global warming that now make more sense. Take the science of it. Nobody really has a handle on all the factors that are contributing, but there’s almost no argument in the scientific community that it’s getting warmer. Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that, worldwide, 9 of the 10 warmest years on record had occurred since 1995, and 2006 just made the top ten.

I can get my head around that. I don’t fully know how my car works, but I know it gets me from here to there. I also now know that, collectively, everyone jumping in their cars to go from here to there is making ‘here’ and ‘there’ and ‘everywhere’ much warmer.

Another clear fact is one I learned from Al Gore in his movie An Inconvenient Truth. The ice near the north and south poles is melting, and if certain stretches of ice shelf melt, sea level goes up 20 feet. The fate of Beijing? Underwater. Most of Florida? Underwater. The financial capital of the world in downtown Manhattan? Every stockbroker on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange is going to need those little orange inflatable arm floaties.

What I still don’t understand, if indeed global warming is becoming more urgent to more people, is the continued migration of the American public to southern, coastal states. For some, it doesn’t seem to matter that hurricanes are bigger and faster than your average natural hazard. Some people just ignore that New Orleans now resembles any number of stylish European cities (in the dark ages), and each storm season, Florida’s beach front property gets mowed down more often than a poorly-placed lawn ornament.

Not that Floridians have the market cornered on stubbornness. Pick-up trucks and their drivers in this state continue to be mysteriously drawn out on the lakes, despite warm winter temperatures, and are surprised when they have to swim back to shore. Yes, ice fishing may be worth the risk, but if you see open water, boats may be more useful than icehouses.

There are other more minor pieces to the global warming puzzle I don’t understand, like why Gore speaks in a breathy whisper in the voice-over portions of An Inconvenient Truth, why Happy Feet, the environmental-movie-for-kids, is peppered with enough violence to get it a PG rating, and why hybrid cars have to be so ugly. But these are the worries of a man who gets under his desk after he sees a mushroom cloud.

If I’m right, and we are on the verge of an environmental wake-up, will we duck and cover, or will we be spurred on to constructive action? Will most of us ready ourselves to face the threat, or will we keep moving to the burbs on the barrier islands? Being warmer in the winter reduced my frustration, but what I really should be doing is getting mad all over again, in a new way for a new reason. Life isn’t going to be good anywhere if the sea rises and half the country starts running inland. I need to get mad, and do something more than dress appropriately for the weather. In the cold, I suffered in silence, but I can do something about the warmth.

I get sad thinking that my kids might never have a chance to go skating or sledding. I get angry thinking that, 50 years from now, the great coastal cities as we know them today might be a thing of the past. But a world full of people aware of the issues, aware there are things we can all do, and not doing them, me included, is the wrong reaction. It doesn’t matter how I feel about the prospects of what might happen. With what is known about global warming at this point, my feelings are irrelevant. Getting sad or mad, without action, is madness.