Cold Feet


One of the prettiest places to play frisbee, or do anything else, on Earth. Photo by Diego Barroso

The Dartmouth College green: One of the prettiest places to play frisbee, or do anything else, on Earth. Photo by Diego Barroso

I remember playing frisbee one afternoon duration orientation week in the fall of 1983. I had just come back from my freshman trip, which practically all incoming Dartmouth students go on. Mine was a two-day canoeing trip near the New Hampshire-Canada border on a lake just big enough to get lost on, followed by one day and night at Mt. Moosilauke, for hiking, singing, volleyball, and ghost stories. 


Tired and oddly happy after our three days of indoctrination and hard physical activity, a few of us freshmen took to tossing a disk on the green at the center of Dartmouth’s amazingly beautiful campus. Now, coming from California, and liking frisbee, I had by that point tossed a disk more than a few times. One of my favorite things to do was to take off my shoes and play on the grass, which was what I did on this golden, early fall day in central New Hampshire. The air temperature was in the mid-70s. There was no appreciable wind. After a few minutes, though, as my new friends and I began to throw each other increasingly distant passes to run beneath, I noticed something strange. The lawn I was running on was probably 20 or 30 degrees colder than any my feet had touched before. It caused a deep ache in my feet, which I struggled to ignore for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to look cool. Second, I wanted to keep playing frisbee!

And, yet, it hurt. More than that, the feeling of deep cold coming from the Earth scared me a little bit. I knew that Dartmouth’s weather was colder than where I came from in Northern California, but I did not know how deeply the cold affected the ground itself. I had not learned yet that the soil in a climate like Hanover’s spent much of the year frozen solid. What my feet were communicating to me, even for someone excited to be in the “exotic” Northeast, with its foliage and snow and four real seasons, was somehow humbling: “You’re not home anymore.” Jarringly, the news from my feet continued to come in: “This place might be a little bit weird.”

Indeed, plenty of my fellow Californians, and pretty much all of the Hawaiians, found the winters at Dartmouth unbearable. Myself, I bought the warmest boots L.L. Bean sold, a ton of super thick wool socks, thermal underwear, heavy sweaters, and donned an old military-issue winter coat with faux-shearling (and amazingly warm) lining that my dad had passed down to me. I also stayed active as a member of the crew, running mile after mile as part of our training over the packed snow around Hanover. Like everyone on the crew, I wore a warm hat until April — our coach promised extra workouts for anyone he saw without one! I found the winters to be deeply satisfying, and I was seldom cold, least of all my feet. 

Now, Al Gore and the other leaders of the anthropogenic global warming “movement” appear, at some point along the way, to have become as frightened by weather as I was on the afternoon my feet grew numb with cold 25 years ago. Like I was that day, they are frightened of the unknown, and, perhaps ironically, in the realm of chilling uncertainty. Unfortunately, these “leaders,” Gore most of all, have responded to their own fear by attempting to instill it in others. To a remarkable extent, they have succeeded. At present, there cannot be a flooding event, a heat wave, a hurricane, a drought, a cluster of tornadoes, an episode of glacial calving, or an El Nino (an event that has taken place for thousands of years, at least) — without the public being warned, in the direst terms, that global warming is to blame.

But wait: When was the most destructive hurricane to hit the Gulf coast? That would be the Galveston Hurricane in 1900, long before meaningful amounts of C02 were introduced into the atmosphere by man. In New England, people will never forget the hurricane that swept into Long Island and then Rhode Island with almost no warning, wiping out the region’s fishing fleet, killing hundreds, and destroying thousands of homes. The year was 1938, again, before the post-war economic boom that yielded the current rise in (harmless) C02. The Great New England Hurricane, as the storm is known, was the first major hurricane to make landfall in New England since … 1867. Tell the relatively few descendants of the sailors of the Spanish Armada, much of which was destroyed by a gale off the coast of Ireland in 1588, that the seas and the atmosphere were kindly back then!

In fact, neither William Gray, the greatest authority on hurricanes in the world, nor the majority of his fellow experts, see any correlation between the warming of the late 20th century and hurricane activity. For what it’s worth, the last two years have seen an all-time record low amount of tropical cyclone activity in the Northern Hemisphere, despite above-average activity in the Atlantic basin. 

As with hurricanes, so with every other form of extreme weather. The more one goes back and looks at what kinds of weather there were and what the weather did in the historical record, the more one sees that our modern goings-on are simply not unusual. 

It is a shame that Gore has such a knack for fear-mongering. It’s unfair, too. Life is hard enough without well-intentioned members of the public being told that now is the worst time, in terms of Earth’s crumbling environment, to be alive, that it didn’t used to flood this way, it didn’t used to get hot this way, there didn’t used to be hurricanes like Katrina. Using still and video images of extreme weather events, Gore and his brethren have PowerPointed the credulous into submission. If, just for the sake of argument, one could travel back in time with a camera, there is no era in Earth’s history from which one could not draw terrifying spectacles for use in this kind of eco-terrorism. In fact, the late Holocene, as the interglacial period in which we live is known, is considered to be among the most optimal for human habitat that the planet has served up. One of the most important reasons that we have flourished on so many levels during the last few thousand years, in terms of population, culture, and technology, is precisely that the climate has favored us! 

By definition, now is not the worst time to be alive as a citizen of the Earth. A worse time than now, as I’ll discuss in my next entry, was the Little Ice Age.

About Harold Ambler

I am a lifelong environmentalist. I started my journalism career at The New Yorker, where I worked as a copy editor. Since then, my own work has appeared in The New York Daily News, The National Review Online, The Atlantic Wire, The Huffington Post, The Berkeley Daily Planet, The Providence Journal, Brown Alumni Monthly, The Narragansett Times, Rhode Island Monthly, and Providence Business News.
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1 Response to Cold Feet

  1. Dave Kanevsky says:

    It is interesting how the vernacular has changed. The hysterics first spoke of global warming, man made CO2 and catastrophic climate change.

    Now, since the globe seems to have inconveniently been cooling since around 1998, the GW advocates keep on making excuses, very much like religious movements predicting Armageddon on a specific time and day, only to be foiled. Of course when dire predictions do not come to pass, there is always a good reason, and a new dire prediction.

    We now don’t talk about global warming, but about climate change, and of course any change is deemed as bad, as if the start of the 20th century were some ideal frozen in time checkpoint against which all other conditions are compared. Since very few people who were born circa 1900 are even alive, and even less able to report on weather back then, we cannot ask them which century of weather they would rather reside in. Think of Charles Dickens stories with bitter cold and snowy winters, when the Thames still froze over in the 19th century Little Ice Age. Also the Little House on the Prairie series, which spoke of brutal winters on the plains.

    Never mind that climate has been changing for hundreds of millions, or perhaps billions of years. The slight of hand that takes place is attributing all of this to increased anthropogenic CO2. Too dry-man made CO2. Too wet? Same thing. Too hot or too cold? It all goes back to CO2. What is amazing is that few people are interested in pointing out this little conundrum. I saw a billboard yesterday that spoke of “fighting climate change”. Shall we fight solar irradiation and outlaw that?

    Oh well.

    Dave K

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