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Adventure Blog

Summer Is Heating Up

Buzz Poole
07/17/2012 - 06:05
Tom Bachtell, via The New Yorker

Here in North America the dog days of summer have sizzled into place. And after a mild and essentially snow-free winter, the conditions feel extreme. Of course, the first logical question is, Where exactly did the term "dog days" originate? According to this NPR piece, author John Katz "says the term dates back to the ancient Romans, who noticed that Sirius rose with the sun from July 3 to Aug. 11. As the major star of the 'Big Dog' constellation, Sirius is often called the 'dog star.' It's the brightest star in the nighttime sky. The Romans assumed that the two stars were acting in league to create the 'days of great heat.' Leave it to the Romans to fuse such poetry into sweltering heat.

In truth, we've been feeling the heat for months, as evidenced in droughts, wildfires, and, according to this fascinating item from The New Yorker, stymied corn sex. As Elizabeth Kolbert reports: "It is now corn-sex season across the Midwest, and everything is not going well. High commodity prices spurred farmers to sow more acres this year, and unseasonable warmth in March prompted many to plant corn early. Just a few months ago, the United States Department of Agriculture was projecting a record corn crop of 14.79 billion bushels. But then, in June and July, came broilingly high temperatures, combined with a persistent drought across much of the midsection of the country." I just picked up the first ears of corn of my summer the other day at the local farmers market: sweet and crispy. But for those farmers working on a larger scale than smaller regional farmers the heat's meddling with their crops means less money for them, and doubtless higher prices for consumers.

Kolbert uses this example to make clear how climate change is effecting us now, today. She argues that one problem with the perception of this issue is that too often it is raised in terms people can't relate to directly, whether citing some figure about polar ice caps melting or long-term predictions that exist 100 years down the road. Such abstractions can be difficult to understand because you can't walk out of the house and see what's happening. Kolbert reports: "Referring to the fires, the drought, and the storms, Jonathan Overpeck, a professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona, told the Associated Press, 'This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about.' He also noted, 'This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level.'"

It's easy enough to stave off the heat with a quick dip, cold rinse in the shower, or by blasting the AC, or even better taking a trip to somewhere cool. But those are short-term solutions. How we make changes that might improve the future is a whole other question. It can't be answered now, at least not easily, but it's probably more important that we think about the long term as we deal with short term discomfort. 

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