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The american Jelabi: polar vortex, justin bieber, khobragade

The only warmth we can expect in the days ahead should be in the heated exchanges between climate change denialists and alarmists.

columns Updated: Jan 11, 2014 00:33 IST
anirudh Bhattacharyya
anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times
Devyani Khobragade,freezing tempratures,polar vortex

During a conversation this week with a Delhiite, she expressed concern over the freeze that has dominated this part of the world in recent days. “What’s the temperature like in Toronto?” she asked. “About 3 degrees,” I replied.

“That’s not too bad; seems like a Delhi winter.” I realised my error, born of living in New York for several years: I had stated the temperature in the Fahrenheit scale, rather than Celsius, which would make it about 16 degrees below zero. That doesn’t even take into account the chill wind that blows nobody any good, accentuating the misery of the mercury.

‘Tis the season to be wary of the weather. After all, at these temperatures, we are warned, skin exposed to the elements for a few minutes can get frostbitten. It has turned almost as frigid as the current state of relations between the United States and India after the arrest of India’s Deputy Consul General in New York, Devyani Khobragade.

These anomalous patterns though aren’t only of 2014 vintage. Just before Christmas in December, a freak ice storm battered Toronto, and this part of Canada. The morning after, it left in its wake a magical landscape that transformed trees into instant installation art. But that was of cold comfort to many who discovered that it had caused branches and entire trees to tumble taking with them power lines thus leaving thousands without electricity.

But these strange meteorological phenomena have added to our phrase book. For instance, there were the frost quakes — booms resonating through neighbourhoods as moisture in the soil froze, the ice formed below ground expanded and caused cracks, not only of the sonic variety.

Now, of course, we have the polar vortex, which sounds like a pretty cool name for a supervillain in the next Iron Man film. This, we were informed (though it has been debated), was a cyclone of Arctic air travelling south somewhat like the snowbirds of the East Coast, who migrate to Florida for the winter. Unless, of course, they are of Indian origin, in which case they travel somewhat further south to Bangalore or Chennai.

The temperatures dipped so precipitously that even Anana, the beloved polar bear at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo had to be relocated to a climate-controlled environment.

During one peculiar period last week, the temperature hereabouts was actually lower than the maximum recorded by the Curiosity Rover on Mars. In fact, it was so cold that even Justin Bieber had to pull his trousers up. Just about the only cool thing to warm up to was Indian-American comedienne Mindy Kaling appearing on the cover of the fashion magazine, Elle.

Proponents of global warming ought to keep their warnings under wraps, for the time being. The climate just isn’t right. The optics, with snow on the ground, are negative. Even the narrative is against them, and their pleas may not cut much ice with the teeth-chattering classes.

Then there was the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, a ship carrying scientists that became trapped in Antarctic ice. Climate change sceptics gleefully riffed on the irony.

The Australian editorialised: “You have to feel a touch of sympathy for the global warming scientists, journalists and other hangers-on aboard the Russian ship stuck in impenetrable ice in Antarctica, the mission they so confidently embarked on to establish solid evidence of melting ice caps resulting from climate change embarrassingly abandoned because the ice is, in fact, so impossibly thick.”

The ice, obviously, wasn’t the only thing that was thick.

Just about the only warmth we can expect in the days ahead should be in the heated exchanges between climate change denialists and alarmists. Now, if only we could harness all that heat generated. Hopefully, once the thaw sets in, cooler heads will prevail and the deep freeze of 2014 won’t put the advances in combating climate change on ice. But we’ll weather this storm as well. After all, silly seasons don’t last forever.

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Jan 11, 2014 00:27 IST