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After the brutal winter we just went through, Jerry Adler's article in the May issue of Smithsonian magazine comes as something of a reality check. Starting with the premise that the globe is, in fact, warming, Adler visits Phoenix to see how people cope with relentlessly increasing heat. And it's not a pretty picture.
"The first thing you learn about the future is that it will apparently be lived indoors," he writes. Air conditioning is vital in Phoenix, where temperatures from June to September are routinely higher than 100 degrees; even at night, they often don't drop below the 90s.
Newcomers "have to learn the hard way what happens to a soda can left inside a car parked in the sun, or to dogs whose owners take them out on sidewalks without protective booties."
Adler's main point is what heat does to our personalities.
There is a reason that when people are furious we say they are "steamed" or "hot under the collar," and when they are calm we say they have "cooled off": Studies indicate that each additional degree of heat is associated with increased social disruption.
An evolutionary psychologist in Phoenix tried this experiment: Once a week he had a volunteer stop her car at a green light, and he counted the seconds until the car behind started honking. Temperature proved to be an accurate predictor of rage: The hotter it was, the faster and angrier came the response.
Adler says studies have linked higher temperatures with all kinds of aggression, such as property crime and personal violence, "up to and including war."