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AN ARTIFICIAL ENVIRONMENT
June 18, 2008
 
I try not to be determined by the weather, but it's an uphill battle -- the weather is much larger than I am. And besides, I'm an animal, subject to the forces that shape my habitat. I can stretch the parameters of those constraints a little bit -- a sweater if it is cool, a fan if it's hot, a decision not to run around like a fool in the enervating heat of noonday -- but the constraints are always there.

Today is a delight, though -- warm, but not hot, with a reasonable level of humidity and a bright sun dappling the shade of the tree outside my window. As discouraged as I can feel when the heat wilts me, the breeze that strokes my bare arm can fill me with a serene optimism about almost anything before me.

Perhaps the most important technological advance in modern history has been in our ability to control climate. Not weather -- that's still beyond us. But we manage our interior environments with fearsome efficiency, rendering homes, stores and office buildings chilly enough to require a sweater when it's hot enough outdoors to melt rock. It's changed us: people accustomed to refrigerated air lose the ability to adapt to changes in the temperature of the air that surrounds them. Our refrigeration smarts are not without cost.

Neither are the transportation miracles we take for granted. Uprooting and dividing neighborhoods right down to the dead people in their cemeteries, the great roads have slashed their way through every modern country -- none more than my own -- and enabled a personal mobility unimaginable to earlier generations. But they have also vitiated the idea of the common, reducing still further the occasions upon which we interact with people we do not choose, as one must do on public transportation. The same is true of the idealization of the single family home, a living arrangement which politicians long ago christened "The American Dream." In each case, we become dependent on the technology we develop to improve our lives, unable any longer even to imagine living without them. Just try and convince the first person you meet that a car and an air conditioner are unnecessary.

No, really, do try. Please, can't somebody find the words that will help us rise with excitement and resolve to a challenge most of us refuse to see as anything but a personal affront? The words that will make it real to us? Before it is too late?
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Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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