Cold Snaps and Modernity

The Midwest is in a bit of a cold snap right now. It was -24 degrees Fahrenheit earlier this morning here in the Chicago area. That’s 56 degrees below freezing, or as far below freezing as an 88 degree day is above it. This is excluding wind chill.

My house’s heating system is proving capable of maintaining a roughly 90-degree temperature difference against the outdoors. This is par for the course these days, even for people who aren’t that well off. As someone who works from home, this means I am able to be perfectly productive with little more than a sweater and a sleeping cat nearby for added warmth. Moreover, this productivity involves interacting in real time with colleagues who are hundreds of miles away using little more than a computer, a phone, and a small amount of electricity.

Of course, today’s weather does make commuting difficult, and in many cases impossible. So the schools around here are closed, and many workers have the day off. This will make them about as comfortable as I am in most cases, though hopefully rather less busy.

It’s worth taking a minute to imagine just how different this picture would be for a similar cold snap just a century ago. We are able to cozy up over hot chocolate, but not too long ago, we would have had legitimate worries about just surviving the next few days. This cold snap is a good opportunity to reflect on how good people have it today compared to any previous era in history, and why. Since things could also be a lot better, it is worth reflecting on what could make things even better for future generations.

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