In mid-December the New York Times reported that “Survivors Face Subzero Temperatures After Quake Kills Over 120 in China”. Knowing how the Times considers any news of warm weather as a catastrophe you might think the cold spell is mentioned as a happy postscript to an otherwise tragic disaster but, uncharacteristically, in this case they seem to admit that subzero temperatures are miserable, indeed extremely dangerous, especially when you don’t have reliable heating in your home, or indeed a home at all. “The 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck Gansu Province around midnight. People who had fled their homes huddled in the cold, building fires to keep warm.” Almost as if warmth were, well, vital.
Of course an earthquake doesn’t help, and would cause misery and death even if it were a balmy summer day. Not to mention the headline “Russia Hits Ukraine With New Missile Barrage as Cold Sets In” where obviously being the target of a Russian attack is the main problem but having temperatures in the “hottest year ever” fall to -18°C compounds the problems for combatants and civilians alike.
Also in December, the Washington Post had the gall to write “As Alaska’s climate gets wetter, snowstorms put the homeless in peril”. Which is the kind of unreflective stuff that gets written on climate, as if being homeless in an Alaska snowstorm was just peachy and wholesome until five years ago.
As the case of Western Canada in this and every winter also underlines, when it’s uncomfortably hot you can open the windows and lie down. When it’s uncomfortably cold, you must modify your immediate environment or you will die. And in fact, as the Hindustan Times had written just before the Times story appeared, “Emergency in China as temperatures hit lowest levels ever”.
Elsewhere in the hottest year ever the cold is really starting to bite. In Western Canada someone posted on January 11, over a weather map showing frighteningly low temperatures (around -30°C) from Smithers to Saskatoon, “Just a friendly reminder that our government is taxing us on heating our houses to stay alive.” Or for instance the news story saying “Extreme cold leaves thousands without power in Nordic countries.” Yes, even in advanced economies a combination of bad weather and bad policy can create potentially lethal circumstances, in this case with the weather dipping as low as -38°C (which is very similar in Fahrenheit, at -36.4; when the two converge, the actual meeting place being -40, you know it’s life-threateningly cold).
Naturally some people are babbling about “a direct connection between human-caused climate change and increased occurrences of extreme cold”. But in the real world, it’s always instructive to compare what private firms who pay a significant price for being wrong say compared to what governments who seem to make a living off it do. And on Jan. 9 Canadian Tire emailed “Here comes the big chill. We’re in for some very cold weather. Prepare for it now.” And added “Stay safe and warm with everything you need to ride out extreme sub-zero temperatures.”