The story appears on

Page A7

August 2, 2017

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Opinion » Opinion Columns

Missed message of the recent heatwave

WE have just survived a heat spell of epic proportions, with a record 11 extremely hot (when the daily high reaches 37 degrees) days in a row, and including an all-time peak of 40.9 degrees on July 21.

The 11 successive days, and 40.9, made history in their respective categories since meteorological observations first began 145 years ago.

But for many of us, struggling with the heat might be an overstatement, as we managed to confine ourselves to air-conditioned environments.

Furthermore, in spite of the record heat, there have been no warnings of a power shortage or any proactive campaign about energy savings. And there has been little attempt at discussing the unusual heat against the background of climate change.

There is still plenty of misery about us, though.

On July 26, I had a WeChat talk with a cousin in Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province, where he oversaw a small construction team, which specialized in binding steel bars as concrete reinforcements at construction sites. He said he had lost 5 jin (2.5 kg) of sweat that day.

We urbanites, more often than not, sense the discomfort engendered by the heat when we go to the door to pick up a meal sent by a deliveryman.

If you are of a reflective turn of mind, you might recall the unhappy experience, while walking on the street, of getting a start when a deliveryman suddenly speeds past on a motorbike, apparently trying to meet the deadline. The heat appears to have made these delivery guys busier and faster.

Burning more energy

In other words, the usual strategy for an urbanite to stay cool in the rising heat is to simply burn more energy.

The heat might be historical, but for many residents, except for the occasional exposure to the elements while commuting to and from work, the discomfort experienced is generally insufficient to result in a soul-searching reflection over the link between the heat and human behavior.

There was a time when we had to take the consequence more seriously.

My wife recalls that when she was a baby, her mother used to sit up all night keeping her cool using a palm leaf fan in the summer months.

Today the seemingly endless supply of energy precludes any scruples we might have about energy use.

Our ability to admire the ravages of sunlight from the vantage point of a supercool interior has somewhat elevated this unusual heat to a spectator sport. This inclement condition would elicit exclamations more like “What a piece of work is a man!” than “The time is out of joint … That ever I was born to set it right!”

We rule out, from our perception, the melting glaciers, vanishing rainforests, receding snow lines and the expanding landfills as distant inconveniences.

In a recent Shanghai Daily article (Green back-to-school shopping, July 21), it was observed that concerns about the environment have made some American parents, and kids, look for secondhand clothing or fashions made from reused material.

It would be premature to conclude Americans are thinking green.

When I was young I did not feel ashamed going to school in clothes with patches sewn on them.

Ironically, it contrasts today with some fashion conscious youths sporting deliberately ripped jeans.

Ideally, in a consumerist society, a progressive citizen would choose to pronounce himself green and socially responsible while pushing a cartful of green merchandize through an aisle of Walmart.

Eluding them is the more compelling message that we can do more by cutting down on unnecessary shopping. Which would entail a rethink of consumerist mantra of “getting and spending.”

Thanks to the rise of online shopping, buying local has ceased to become a rational choice.

Bewilderingly, in the globalized age, the cheapest things often come from afar, as if the energy used in transporting these goods has become mysteriously neutralized.

Similarly, eating out at some restaurants is not such a good deal — nor so welcome — as ordering meals online and having it delivered to your doorstep.

To this day, I cannot make out the mysterious forces that drive millions of prime-aged delivery men to scuttle across the streets in such haste.

But just as people are waking up to the meaning of wasting less, we might one day get wised up to the rationale of buying local and eating at home.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend