Blue by Mayank Chhaya
A shorter version of this piece appeared yesterday in the Daily News and Analysis of India.
By Mayank Chhaya
One always knew that Nature has no direct stake in sentient well-being. It does what it must do irrespective of its consequences on life. Surprisingly, even journalists are not immune Nature’s wickedness much as they would like to think otherwise. A persistent subzero cold snap that has much of the United States in its grip for the past three days shows that all over again.
Caused by a weather phenomenon called polar vortex, which simply means a cyclone over Earth’s geographical poles, the frighteningly cold spell has compelled authorities in Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo to move its resident polar bear to warmer confines. That pretty much sums up how cold is too cold these days.
From inside centrally heated homes, outside under inches of snow and ice might look pristine and inviting but a few moments of exposure would tell you that there is nothing even remotely pleasurable about the experience. I tried doing that in the best traditions of investigative journalism but nearly ended up leaving parts of my body outside. The predominant feeling of temperatures this low, in the vicinity of 20 below zero, is the kind of physical pain you did not know existed. It pains from the very core of your being after standing in the cold uncovered for a few moments. Parts of one’s nose fall of figuratively. Eyes tear up because of the wind chill and then tears freeze as well. Bones feel brittle even without having a case of osteoporosis.
Entire landscapes stretching hundreds of miles have been left frozen and iced up by the polar vortex. The ground below feels like permafrost even though it takes much more to cause permafrost in geological terms. Everything along Chicago’s famous Lake Michigan seems to have been frozen in the middle of some active life. Photographs and videos of waves frozen mid-crest, a lighthouse on the shore looking like a giant melting candle and steam devil—caused by frigid weather coming into contact with warm water—eerily spreading have gone viral on the net.
In the era before such widespread availability of smart camera phones it was demanded of journalists to produce “lots of color” while reporting any out of the ordinary weather stories. The color these days, of course, is blinding white. The post Christmas and new year mood, at least for people of a certain generation, is Dr. Zhivago-like as in the 1965 masterpiece by David Lean.
Amateurs photographers—and who is not these days?—the layers of snow everywhere offer effortlessly beautiful images. One can aim and shoot from any angle without even the most elementary knowledge of photography and still produce lovely pictures because of the innate beauty of snow and ice. Icicles hang from roofs and ice crystals in breathtaking patterns climb up windows like vines. Patio tables are buried under giant snow cakes and chair under fluffy white cushions. In short, everything is stunningly picturesque as long as you watch it from inside your home or cars.
In the midst of all this one realizes that the temperature difference between outside and inside is a staggering 90 degrees because of the heating facilitated by gas and electric companies which are often the subject of harsh scrutiny by environmentalists. Inevitably, the intense cold spell has come in handy for rightwing politicians to forcefully advance their case against the near universal scientific consensus of climate change and global warming causing such extreme weather. In particular, they latch on to the patently silly argument that if the globe is warming why is it so cold?
Radio and television wingnuts have found an unbeatable opportunity in the cold snap to push their favorite case of higher fossil fuel consumption or, at the very least, forever ending the debate over global warming. They all have this smug “we-told-you-so” expression and tone when they talk about how bad the cold has been. The underlying suggestion is to tell those who believe in climate science to come back to their side and all would be forgiven.
For me personally, once a native of Ahmedabad where summer heat can nearly destroy conscience, the cold in Chicago is always a reminder that it is us, sentient life that must adapt to Nature and not Nature to us. That is because Nature is inherently detached and unemotional even if people curiously ennoble it with the sobriquet Mother. Its affections, if there are any at all, are not motherly by any imagination.