Remember global warming? It was a hot-button term at the beginning of the 21st century. As our illustrious former vice president said, “It’s a certain truth. But it’s an inconvenient truth.” And yet since then we’ve recorded some of the harshest, coldest temperatures in this world’s history. In fact, today my children were home from school for a “snow” day, even though it wasn’t snowing. It was really a “frigid temperature” day, which was funny because yesterday it got up to 45 here in upstate New York. And isn’t that really the gist of the whole “global warming” issue, the idea of a global shifting of climate. Climate change, now that’s a phrase I can get on board with, but is it new?
When I was a kid growing up in Philadelphia I clearly recall a rough winter when it snowed more days than it didn’t, and during one stretch of time it didn’t stop snowing for three days straight, at the end of which we had over six feet of snow. And like good neighbors we made sure to dig out, at least to the sidewalk. There were these six foot walls of snow on either side, like we were rats in a huge, white maze. I was fascinated by it, sticking my hand out at one point while following my father, who was digging with the shovel, and touching one of the walls. My hand sunk in a little bit and was quickly covered in snow. I screamed and my dad turned around to laugh at me. I yanked my hand out of the snow and some of the wall crumbled at my feet. That was the end of that exploration.
Then, about fifteen years later, I went to New York City with a few friends of mine in order to party with another friend who lived in a dorm at NYU. We took the train in like we always did, but it was the time before instant notices ahead of time about weather situations. We knew a storm was supposed to come, but we didn’t realize it would be the blizzard of the decade, which it turned out to be. It hit while we were on the train coming back to Philly and it hit hard. After several delays we made it back to 30th Street Station, but everything was in flux. Some of the trains were shut down, the trolleys were incredibly intermittent, and there was absolutely no bus service. The station was in disarray, with hordes of passengers essentially stranded. I made it home on a trolley that wasn’t even the one I normally used, but not after all able-bodied men on the trolley had to get out at several points to clear the track of more snow.
But I have no solid memories of the intense cold. Maybe it’s because I was always inside when weather like that was brewing, or I just didn’t have enough time outside to consider it. I vaguely recall not being able to feel my hands one time, even though I had thick gloves on, and blowing on them copiously to relieve the tingling sting of invisible needles as they tried to regain feeling. And I remember feeling my face tighten up in a stiff wintry wind and imagining that’s what Joan Rivers must feel like all the time. It was the one and only time I have ever felt bad for her. Yet, despite those snatches of memory, the cold was never really a factor for me growing up.
Now today, today was different. Having negative temperatures, and on top of it a wind chill that made it feel like it was double digits in the negative, that’s something I don’t have recollections of while growing up. Does it mean we’re in the midst of this global climate change? Some of my Facebook friends are complaining because it’s colder in regions where it never gets cold, and they’re freaking out like it’s some sign of the apocalypse. And others are saying that they remember cold days like this one before and it’s nothing, that our kids should just “suck it up” and go to school. It’s just interesting to me how polarizing (ha ha) this whole topic is, but to me it’s just all about being safe. Being out in the extreme cold lowers your immune system, and for so many of us, the immune system is not the paragon of strength that it is for others. I think we are in the midst of climate change.
However, I don’t think that Al Gore is right. I don’t think this is some amazing phenomenon brought about by destroying the ozone layer or by using too many fossil fuels. I think it’s all cyclical. Just because I don’t remember anything like this before in my lifetime doesn’t mean anything. This world has been through ice ages before, and I’m not saying this is one, but it could be a precursor. Or perhaps it has something to do with shifting ocean tides. Regardless of what it really is, I firmly believe that there’s nothing truly new under the sun, that even if this is climate change it’s neither new nor life-threatening for us. It just means a few extra “snow” days, which is okay with me.