This Week in the Mayonnaise Clinic: California Is Still Good
Plus: Daylight saving time is also still good.
It’s time for the Mayonnaise Clinic! Tim writes in from Southern California:
I work for a federal agency with a large presence in Washington, DC. Lately, whenever I mention I’m based in Los Angeles, my coworkers — particularly the younger ones — either make this face of concern about the impending climate disaster that will supposedly make the Western U.S. unlivable, or question me about why I live there given that it must already be too [hot/cold/rainy/dry] to live. This is essentially the lefty equivalent to my right-wing family’s assumption that California is a communist republic.
I’m a proud Californian, and a bit tired of people crapping on my state. Any thoughts on how to respond to my climate-doomer coworkers without getting rude?
I talked this question over with Very Serious editor Sara Fay (who, as you may recall, resides in Los Angeles) and she proposes that part of what we’re seeing here is a misplaced attempt at interpersonal connection:
This is a souped-up version of small talk about the weather, with probably some political overtones: People trying to demonstrate they know something about where you live; people trying to relate or be empathic; people doing the misery-loves-company thing. It definitely checks out that he works for a federal agency where the younger lefty employees want to go straight to doom-and-gloom.
But I hear this about other cities and states, too, and with different political valences. New York: So much crime! Minnesota: So much snow! San Francisco: So much homelessness! Florida: So hot and flat and the hurricanes! —Sara
Indeed, I have been living this out this ski season. It seems like whenever I have mentioned to a stranger on a chairlift that I live in New York City, I have gotten an earful about how crime-ridden and disorderly New York is, or about how expensive it is,or sometimes even both, but without ever pondering how New York could remain so expensive if it’s so unlivable.
Like Sara and Tim, I find this weird and rude. After all, I have opinions about the places the people I meet on chairlifts are from, but if they’re negative, I keep them to myself.This is the very simple solution to this problem — people should be tactful, and find something nice to say about where people they meet live or say nothing at all. And Tim’s colleagues in particular should read Matt Yglesias on how climate doomerism is both a political and psychological dead end.
And yet, I couldn’t help asking Tim… the weather has been becoming more of a problem in California, right?
Certainly, the wildfires seem to have gotten larger, scarier and more destructive, most notably the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people and destroyed more then 18,000 buildings. Those torrential rainstorms from the “atmospheric river” and the flooding they cause have all sounded like a lot of trouble. The inhospitability of certain parts of the state, especially in its hills, has been making some homes very difficult to insure. I have even been personally victimized, in that the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten in burned to the ground in a wildfire two and a half years ago and still has not reopened.
So I asked, perhaps tiresomely, how California’s increasingly extreme climate has been affecting Tim’s day-to-day life. His answer was: not very much.
Los Angeles is still a delightful place to live with a climate that’s unbeatable. I challenge anyone to visit San Diego and not fall in love. While I certainly accept that climate change is real and the effects are with us, I do think there are a couple things that folks back east miss about California and climate.
When the media reports on evacuations from a forest fire, that does not mean millions of Los Angeles County and Orange County residents evacuated. Evacuations tend to be controlled and, if anything, overstate the number of people actually in threat of property damage. I live less than a mile from a hill that has burned twice in the past 15 years and have never been evacuated.
The state is a lot bigger than people realize, so even within LA County, a bad wildfire may make the air quality bad, but have no other measurable effect on the rest of the county.
To this point, Sara also noted that the last significant run of smoky, poor-air quality days in Los Angeles she remembers was in late summer 2020 (“truly fucking bleak because it also coincided with a big COVID surge”). Most of the worst fires since then have been hundreds of miles away in Northern California. "We do experience smoky days here from those faraway fires, but it’s a really different experience when they’re closer. Faraway fires are obviously not a win either: it still sucks because it’s a hit to our state, our old redwoods and Giant Sequoias are damaged or destroyed… but anyone who’s had a wildfire actually in their community will tell you it’s a very different kind of ‘that sucks’.”
I do think air quality is an underappreciated issue, but it’s not new. My parents growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s couldn’t see the mountains from Pasadena. That’s improved dramatically.
As for rain, there’s a running gag about California media coverage of weather. I had a coworker visiting San Diego from Chicago, and he was laughing at how local media coverage of a benign rainstorm turned into “wall to wall” coverage of water. The local LA TV stations have had a war over who could have a weather Doppler radar with a more epic sounding name. I think sometimes this gets picked up by national news sources — cough, New York Times — without context because it nicely fits a narrative about climate change.
The rain we’ve had lately has been lovely. Flooding has been limited and local public services to respond to the damage have been quick and effective.
Tim makes an important point there: Even as air pollution from wildfires has gotten worse, air pollution from auto and other emissions has been improving in a way that is noticeable even to me when I leave LAX and notice that I can see the San Gabriel Mountains from the 405. It’s important to take stock of the troubles that are ebbing along with the ones that are worsening.
Sara, meanwhile, concurs that California remains wonderful:
When I get the climate doomerism stuff and if I'm really irked by it, I'll just say something like:
"Yeah, it's going to be in the mid-60s this week, Southern California winters can be harsh, maaan.”
"Yeah, it's so weird, on February 1, LA just decides it's time for spring, like clockwork."
"You should see my yard, the wildflowers are coming up through all that mud."
And here, I think Sara has hit upon the best solution for when someone rudely craps on where you live under the guise of small talk: Brag until they shut up.
Other news out of Southern California
“Every March, it’s the same old thing,” the LA Times declared in a staff editorial this week, but unfortunately they weren’t referring to the annual raft of poorly reasoned editorials calling for the abolition of seasonal daylight saving time. No, they were referring to the annual time shift itself, which like so many writers before them, they purport to find so burdensome that Congress must act:
We set the clocks forward an hour to begin daylight saving time (or increasingly, our smart devices do it automatically) and then spend the next few days slightly discombobulated and wondering why we still practice this odd ritual. By the time the following Sunday rolls around, our disturbed schedules have adjusted and we forget about the week of missed appointments or bad sleep.
There are two possibilities when an entire editorial board claims the annual clock shift causes them to miss appointments for a week. One is that the board consists of the sort of people who frequently put on their shoes before realizing they’re not wearing pants. The other is that the board consists of people who like to complain so much they need to invent problems in order to complain about them.
I assume it has to be the latter.Haven't any of these people ever taken a business trip to another time zone? Or stayed out too late on a weeknight? Or had to get up extra early to catch a flight? I assume their lives went on and these events were barely interesting enough to merit a mention in passing to friends, let alone a demand in a major newspaper for a legislative response.
I also don’t get why the authors of these articles always purport not to understand what daylight saving time is for. “Something about farmers? Or kids walking to school?” the LA Times proposes. No, the purpose of daylight saving time is so simple and obvious that it’s encapsulated right there in the title: The policy saves daylight. It obviously doesn’t increase the total amount of daylight, but increases the total amount of daylight for which members of the public are awake, and it balances that objective with also seeking to minimize the extent to which people have to wake up in the dark.
The fact that both of these objectives are important explains why people who want to abolish daylight saving time can rarely agree on what kind of time we should have instead:
If we set the clocks permanently forward by an hour, like Sen. Marco Rubio proposes, we’d get very late sunrises in the winter, such as 8:55 AM in Seattle and 8:58 AM in Detroit on December 21. This was the downfall of America’s prior experiment with permanent DST — yes, we tried this before, back in the ‘70s, a fact that many time-reform proponents fail to mention, maybe because they’re not aware. The experiment did not go well: People really didn't like how dark it was quite late into the morning in the winter, and after just a few months of trying out eternal summer time, Congress voted by an overwhelming margin to repeal the experiment and return us to time that changes with the seasons.
If we instead left the clocks permanently on winter time — this is generally the actual preferred policy of the “sleep experts” whose advice permanent summer-time advocates dishonestly wave around to argue The Science Says we should implement their late-sunrise agenda for health reasons — we would end up with some extremely early sunrises in the summer, like 4:15 AM in Chicago and 4:07 AM in Boston on June 21. And that would mean a big loss of useful daylight: The long, sunlit summer evenings we love would all be one hour shorter, replaced with early-morning daylight we’d all sleep through — and all so some editor at the LA Times who frequently forgets his wallet on the bus doesn’t oversleep a week of meetings.
Those outcomes are both bad, which is why we have the policy we already have, which is designed to avoid both of them. I promise you, people thought this through already, and the system we have is the best one available for managing the effects of the earth’s axial tilt at moderate-to-high latitudes.So stop trying to change the way the clocks work — don’t make me write this column again! — and enjoy your extra hour of evening sunlight this Sunday.
By the way, I do not need to hear from anyone on a ski vacation at Vail about how expensive any other place is.
Could you imagine the alternative? “Oh, you’re from Tampa? That sounds boring as fuck.” I would never be that rude, and not just because I don’t want to end up the victim of a viral chairlift assault.
Readers, do any of you have an appointment next week with one or more members of the editorial board of the LA Times? If so, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know whether they show up.
The LA Times editors observe that “Hawaii doesn’t observe daylight saving time either, but that’s more practical because its southerly location means the length of daytime doesn’t fluctuate much from season to season,” which is true, but they fail to consider the implications of this observation for the 49 states located north of the Tropic of Cancer.
Delightful writing this week. I live in California and realize there's one big reason things are so expensive here - it's a great place to be and too many people want to be here. High demand. I love other places in the US and usually find something nice to say about them. Being rude isn't necessary, ever. Nail on the head about DST, too - much ado about nothing except everyone who hates it would hate the results if their wishes came true.
Atmospheric rivers are nothing new in California and are certainly not more troublesome than they have been in the past. They're actually critically important parts of California's hydrology. Just one atmospheric river can provide 1/4-1/2 of one of the state's region's water requirements for a year. Droughts are also not new and are a frequent part of the state's history. There's an old saying here, "In California, a drought ends with a flood" and it always seems to come true.