Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tis An Ill Wind That Blows No Minds

California poppies enjoying the heat
The hot winds are blowing in from the east. Off-shore winds are carrying the stifling high pressure temps west from the interior. We're a bit too far north for this to be radiating from the Great Basin, but that's just what it feels like. Sizzling, parched, dry and prickly as cactus. Relentless. We are hiding in the house with the shades drawn on the south-facing windows.

There are many reasons why we retired to the northwest. Some may find this hard to believe, but one of those reasons was the weather. We like it cool, and we don't mind it cloudy and gray. We'd take a 60 degree day over a 90 degree day, any day. Temperatures in the 90s make us lethargic. We struggle with the torpor. We don't get any work done, no shingling, no weeding. We just get out in the early morning to water what needs watering, and then back in the house. It's only been two days, but that's quite enough for us.

While spending all this time in the house, I've been reading about the projected population milestone the US is about to achieve some time this fall. An astonishing 300,000,000 people will be living here. It's hard to really grasp 300 million of anything. Years ago Roger and I read a book called Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences by John Allen Paulos. Quite an interesting read, and one of the things I recall from the book was that Paulos had this fantastic way to convey the difference between a million and a billion.

Think of it this way: One day has 24 hours. That's 1440 minutes, or 86400 seconds. It takes 12 days for one million seconds to pass. It takes 32 YEARS for one billion seconds to pass. I've always loved remembering that. It helps me to understand numbers like budget deficits when they are counted in the billions. When I think about 300 million people in the US, and try to actually comprehend that number, here's what I come up with: If I wanted to look at each of those faces for just one second, it would take me ten years (that's 24 hours a day non-stop). Of course I couldn't really just spend one second on each face, that would never be enough. If I spent five seconds, I would spend the rest of my life life (and then some, I'd be 104 when I was through).
So what I'm saying is it's getting a little crowded and hot here on earth. As an early-on proponent of Zero Population Growth (now called Population Connection), I consciously chose to be childfree. I am glad others are keeping the human race going, but for me, the population seems out of control. We're having a furnace of a day in Washington. Humans are heating up the planet. I feel like I'm in a very small elevator, a lot of people just got on with me, we're running out of air and water, and the doors have just banged shut. A little claustrophobia, anyone?

*Elevator photo borrowed without permission from the webpage of the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.

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