[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]
The August air outside today is thick, steamy and hard to breathe. An online weather advisory for Mercer County, New Jersey, where I live, announces that air quality in the region has reached or exceeded unhealthy levels. Exceeded unhealthy levels.
In my air-conditioned car, I drive to an air-conditioned market for refrigerated mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, red peppers, cucumbers, an avocado, lemons, a quarter of a watermelon and vanilla ice cream. I pass no other old people on my way, and very few other people. I see no young with earphones jogging the streets.
What did folks do before air-conditioning? If they could afford to get to a beach, the children frolicked in the water and the old sat with their feet in it. If they couldn’t, they darkened their rooms, fanned themselves, drank lemonade and waited for a breeze. Some of the old ones died. Few lived as long as me.
I’m not kidding. Philadelphia, which is near Mercer County (although in Pennsylvania) and shares its climate, was the capital of the new United States for the nation’s first ten years. Everyone in government went back where they came from every summer because the hot, soupy weather was deadly. Year after year, thousands upon thousands of Philadelphians died of yellow fever (carried by mosquitos), and sometimes malaria, if not respiratory insufficiency.
We may call ourselves lucky to live now, not then. But although electric power is a public utility, the price of which is somewhat controlled by policy concerns, it still isn’t cheap. Not everyone can afford to run air-conditioning twenty-four/seven. And when the demand is high, power can fail. You might also consider how long our present sources of power may last and the environmental risks connected with developing alternative sources.
A day like today reminds us how tenuous and fragile human life really is. As a wise reader recently observed, the natural world is a brutal place – from which we distract ourselves with ephemeral diversions and the comfort of friends.
Give thanks for diversions, friends, cold lemonade. And let’s hope for better weather tomorrow.