“I like beer,” Judge Brett Kavanaugh announced defiantly to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I liked beer in high school. I still like beer.”
I wonder how Kavanaugh reacted to the news earlier this week that global warming is adversely affecting barley, a drought- and temperature-sensitive crop. As the world heats up, harvests of barley worldwide will steadily diminish, and one of its most popular products, beer, is projected to skyrocket in price as its availability plummets.
Sharon Lerner wrote in the NY Times this morning that now-lifetime-Supreme-Court-Justice Kavanaugh, when he was an appeals court judge, had a history of striking down environmental regulations– for example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 rule restricting the emission of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) from air conditioners and refrigerators. HFCs are the fastest-growing type of heat-trapping greenhouse gas on the planet, trapping 1,300 times more heat than CO2 does.
This reminds me of a seemingly innocuous question that my 7th-grade science teacher asked his class in 1967, in the early days of ecologic awareness: “On a hot day, why not cool off your house by leaving the refrigerator door open?” We stared at him dumbly. “Yes, it feels cooler right in front of the fridge, but the cooling process generates more heat than it removes, and that heat comes out the back of the fridge!” was the answer. We rushed home to our kitchens to check it out, and you know, he was right! In 7th grade, I learned that leaving the fridge door open would heat up, not cool off, the entire house.
That’s entirely different from the question of HFC emissions, but since 1967, I have pictured all the air conditioners in all of the houses, apartment buildings, shopping malls and corporate skyscrapers, pumping heat out of buildings and into the air outside, as a sort of massive global refrigerator with its door kept wide open. So the answer to global warming is not to turn up the AC during a heat wave– a classic example of short vs. long term thinking. The answer is to stop trapping heat with greenhouse gases.
According to Lerner, alternatives exist, but replacing HFCs with ammonia, propane or iso-butane has been blocked, not by science, but by politics. And politics threaten to encroach ever more on the rulings of the right-leaning Supreme Court. More government regulations, environmental or otherwise, are likely to fail. Imagine the irony, when Brett Kavanaugh one day reaches into the mini-fridge in his chambers for a cold beer– only to discover that there is no more beer!
Personally, my adult beverage of choice is wine. But my concerns, at least in that particular area, parallel those of beer-lovers: global warming is already affecting grape harvests. Not long ago, I stood on a terrace in the Rheingau, in northern Germany, looking out at a hillside vineyard with the owner. His family had been in the wine business for centuries, producing fine riesling at the northernmost latitude still hospitable to grapes of the original European type, vitis vinifera. Because of steady temperature rises over the past two decades, he told me, riesling will now grow much farther to the north. “German winegrowers will have to move to the North Pole,” he half-joked. The land we were looking at will one day be more suitable for grapes grown in southern France!
Here’s an excerpt from Fourth World, the first novel in my science fiction trilogy. The third book, Child of the Fourth World, is now complete, and I will post on this blog when it becomes available on Amazon. In this excerpt, I have taken out a paragraph, so as not to spoil the plot for new readers.
Professor Neelin added a generous pinch of salt to the lovely stew of root vegetables simmering on his stove. The dignified sweetness of parsnips, carrots, and onions: three-part harmony, in parallel with the strains of a Bach Cantata drifting in from his living room. Add textural overtones: the pillowy comfort of soft-cooked potatoes contrasting with the mild firmness of beets. Ah, nuances! Earthy, seductive perfumes of cumin, coriander and cardamom. The challenge of cayenne and paprika. A distraction of lemon zest. Magnificent.
You really should watch the salt, he reminded himself- but the cautionary thought passed as quickly as a false alarm ringing in a distant corridor. Hypertension, vascular disregulation, auto-inflammation, endocrine imbalance: what did those matter, in this context? The stew was a masterpiece, destined for an important dinner with the Senior Fellows of Mellon College- blood pressure was several levels of concern beneath that. Now, what about the wine? Neelin glanced at the snow flurries outside his kitchen window, the heavily bundled students hurrying along High Street, a Campus Police car pulling over to the icy sidewalk. A red, certainly: full-bodied, warming, with peppery spice to highlight the stew, low in intellectual gravity, perhaps, but high in immediate gratification. He smiled at the thought. Grenache would be perfect. Yes, a Garnacha from the Spanish District- algo muy especial, verdad? There were only a few old bottles of Garnacha remaining in his cellar three stories down, but why not- they probably should be drunk up, now that their youthful tannins had melted away.
He gave the stew a final stir, carefully turned off the stove, took a wicker wine basket from his pantry, and donned a comfortable pair of leather slippers kept by the front door. Life as Most Senior Fellow was good, undeniably, and yet he held an image in his mind of a peaceful retirement in the wine country of far Northern California- if only it weren’t in the Quarantine Zone. The classic vineyard a hundred and fifty years ago would have been on a mountaintop overlooking the Napa Valley, but over the past century that had become too hot and dry, thanks to global climate change; the southernmost latitude suitable for the cultivation of cabernet sauvignon- or any variety of vitis vinifera– lay on the upper slopes of Mt. Shasta. Still, far-northern California was a beautiful area. Neelin hummed with contentment as he opened his front door.
A campus policeman, obviously in poor condition, was laboring heavily up the last few steps to his landing. Neelin recognized the man as head of security, often seen stalking around the Old Campus- and hadn’t his picture been on a poster denouncing drug abuse in the YaleConn community? His name was Haley, or Halsey, something like that. He waited patiently for the cop to pass by, but instead, Halsey stopped at his door.
“Dr. Neelin?” he asked in between gulps of air. “I’m. Torch Halsey. Security. Have to ask you. To come with me, sir. Routine questioning. Recent events on campus.”
Ah, thought Neelin, his wicker basket dropping to the floor. Here at last: inevitable, really. He closed his eyes. Perhaps the dream of retiring to Northern California wasn’t that farfetched, after all.