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The musical KISS ME KATE featured a song/dance number called, “Too Darned Hot,” that sizzled with energy. But actually being too darned hot isn’t fun. When I taught at a community college, my classroom on the fourth floor was not air conditioned. Classes were scheduled for the summer months, regardless. I brought in fans, but the administration at the time frowned on faculty using too much electricity, so portable a/c units were discouraged. Trying to engage students who aren’t naturally excited by the content when they’re hot and probably hungry (college students are always hungry) was a discouraging challenge. I offered granola bars, but only the morning classes did well. I felt wrung out.
The angst of literature generated in the old South before a/c is often attributed to the heat. People with names like Big Daddy sat outside in the shade sipping mint juleps or lemonade and chatting, occasions which supposedly led to all sorts of sexy, dramatic issues. Later, inner city flare ups of tempers and frustrations were also influenced by sticky, hot weather that made people irritable and impatient. Today, violence increases with temperatures.
Luckily, my home lies at a high enough altitude that we rarely have to face disagreeable temperatures, although a town only an hour away sees the thermometer top 100 degrees frequently. Altitude is a good friend in the summer dog days. Most hot days we can blow the cool air from the basement up into our primary living space and be comfortable. When we lived in a Denver suburb, we used to drive to the mountains for relief on our days off, since we didn’t have a/c in our house. The good side was we were happy to hike long distances to avoid having to return home. The bad side was we eventually had to return home. So, when we relocated, we were deliberate in choosing to settle well into the foothills of the fourteeners. Although we endure cold winters, coats are easy to wear, but you can’t cool down further than bare skin.
This year, as people around the world face temperatures that threaten—and take—life, we’re all thinking harder about how hot is too hot. People who live in traditionally steamy parts of the nation make a face when you talk about being miserably hot, as though only the pathetic have to survive without a/c, but we know better. Heat makes losing power more likely as power demands exceed the ability to meet them. Also, the fierce storms that accompany hot weather can easily wipe out power and tax the longevity of the sturdiest of generators. (We’ve had that particular experience and so has Puerto Rico.) It’s time to consider what to do to manage in situations of excessive heat if a/c isn’t dependable.
Some would have us scoff at scientists who predict future temperatures. True, scientists aren’t always right, but if I have to bet my life on someone’s opinions, I’d pick a scientist over a politician any day. (That was what Galileo tried to say…or should have.) The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that although only 900,000 people in the USA currently have to suffer through 30 days or more above 105 degrees, without intervention in the next few decades (when your little ones are running things) a third of the population will be too darned hot. Residents of states that are used to weeks of 105°F in the summer will have to adapt to months and months of extremes. The scientists provide projections for the continental USA so you can check on the predictions for your neighborhood at www.ucsusa.org/killer-heat. You can compare your life expectancy with what might be before you decide if you want to pay attention to steps you can take to change the outlook. For my part, I figure when and if I’m very old, I’m going to have less tolerance for heat than I have now, and the entire population of the U.S. can’t fit in the Rocky Mountains. Apparently, I have adjustments to make.