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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A hot idea on global warming

Rebecca Nappi The Spokesman-Review

In a “Twilight Zone” episode titled “The Midnight Sun,” the Earth grows hotter and hotter. Thermometers explode; oil paintings melt. Even when you watch the episode in the dead of winter, you feel uncomfortably warm as the characters perspire in a world where excessive heat short-circuits fans, air-conditioning and, ultimately, life itself.

I felt the same discomfort reading a recent three-part series on global warming in The New Yorker. The magazine’s series, by Elizabeth Kolbert, is exhaustive and exhausting. Kolbert reports that permafrost is melting in Fairbanks, Alaska, producing holes as deep as people are tall. Nearly every glacier in the world is shrinking; by 2030, Glacier National Park could be bereft of its namesake.

The series is not written in a sky-is-falling tone. In places it reads like scientific discourse. Kolbert even includes a paragraph of mathematical equations.

In Tuesday’s newspaper it was reported that the first signs of spring arrive, on average, 10 days earlier than they once did, according to a Stanford University study. This pattern has emerged over the past 30 years.

Most scientists agree that air pollution causes global warming, with some natural Earth warming-and-cooling patterns thrown into the mix. Usually, when societies worry about catastrophic events, the nonscientists ring the bells of doom.

But Kolbert writes: “In the climate case, the experts – the people who work with the climate models every day – they are more concerned. They’re going out of their way to say, ‘Wake up!’ “

Wake up! For me, these were the magic words, because after reading all the global-warming research I felt helpless to do much about it. Then I realized that every morning I wake up to the TV weathercasters.

They all approach news of the weather in the same way. Sunny days are good; snowy and rainy days bad.

Listen to this sample dialogue from Monday’s morning news shows.

KHQ: “Today is going to be relatively wet. (Sad voice.) Maybe we’ll see a little sun tomorrow. (Happy voice.)

KXLY: “Tomorrow – dry.” (Happy voice.) “Then likely rain on Wednesday.” (Sad voice.)

KREM: “We are waking up to cloudy conditions. We aren’t going to see any sun all day long.” (Sad, sad voice.)

There’s a saying: “You become what you think about all day.”

Is it just a coincidence that our Earth has been warming up during the same decades that TV newscasters have grown more popular? Is the Earth warming up because we wish for it – led by our weathercasters – every day?

So here’s my challenge to our TV weather women and men. Reverse the emotional tenor associated with your predictions. Pretend that rain and snow are good things. And the sun, not so good. Maybe then the Earth will live up to our expectations, and this global warming trajectory will be reversed.

Yeah, I know. This is as likely to happen as the Bush administration signing the international Kyoto global warming treaty.

Or drivers of SUVs giving up their gas hogs, or China its coal-fired power plants. It’s as likely as Central American countries planting, rather than chopping down, rainforests.

Meanwhile, beginning in 1990 we’ve experienced the warmest years since instrumental temperature record-keeping began, according to Kolbert. And in the Inland Northwest, we have a summer of drought to worry about.

“As best as can be determined, the world is now warmer than it has been at any point in the last two millennia,” Kolbert reported.

Yet it’s rarely that which we fear most that gets us. In the last scene of that “Twilight Zone” episode, it is revealed that the deadly heat wave has been the hallucinogenic dream of a young woman in the throes of a fever.

Outside the sick woman’s window, freezing snow falls relentlessly. An Ice Age has suddenly overtaken the world. Every one is doomed.

And that’s the real end. (Sad voice.)

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