The deluded world of air conditioning.
That's the problem in Washington today. Policymakers aren't facing global warming, because they aren't feeling it. They gave themselves air conditioning in the 1920s and '30s, long before the public got it. White House meetings and congressional hearings on climate change are doomed hours beforehand, when the thermostats are set. One minute, you're watching video of people sweltering in New Orleans. The next minute, you're watching senators dispute the significance of greenhouse gases. Don't ask whether these people are living on the same planet. In effect, they aren't.
When outdoor heat leaks into the Washington bubble, like crime into a white neighborhood, officials treat it as a faux pas. Three weeks ago, House Majority Leader John Boehner told reporters in a Capitol press gallery, "It'd be nice if they could get you a little more air conditioning up here." This week, President Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, assured White House correspondents that their briefing room would soon be renovated. "Gathering from the temperature in this room at this moment, I think everybody agrees that it's probably about time to have a new and updated air conditioning and heating system," he joked. But maybe the air conditioning system we need to fix is the one outdoors. And maybe we won't face that truth till it becomes more inconvenient.
A version of this piece appears in the Washington Post Outlook section.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of sun on Slate's home page by Royalty-Free/Corbis.