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We tend to take weather forecasts with a grain of salt. Some people leave their umbrellas at home unless the probability of precipitation is over, say, 40 percent, while others keep a collapsible in their bag at all times because they don’t know what to believe. We know it’s raining because we are getting wet, and we know it’s hot because we are sweating, but almost everything else about the weather is up for grabs.

For example, in order for us to believe that the world is getting hotter, we need statistics. Consequently, the more information you receive telling you that the weather is hot, the hotter you will feel.

Mediawise, the weather was once a boring sideshow, the particulars of which only farmers worried about. In the past 10 years, climate has been politicized.

As usual, the recent Group of Eight summit accomplished nothing except the production of a communique stating that it accomplished nothing. Much hot air (pardon the expression) was expelled over the Kyoto Protocol on carbon dioxide emissions, which are considered the chief culprit behind global warming. This issue has become so sensitive that in order to qualify for the right to discuss it, one must either possess a doctorate in meteorology or live on a South Sea island threatened with imminent inundation.

Whether or not you believe global warming is an empirically proven phenomenon, its status as an international economic factor gives every change in temperature, no matter how slight, political significance.

Consequently, in the past 10 years or so, the weather has gained admittance to the sanctum of Real News. In some media circles it is even sexy. Weekly Playboy, the cheapest mainstream nudie publication in town, featured an in-depth article in its latest issue that describes with scientific rigor why this summer is and will continue to be the hottest one on record. It has something to do with a “triple punch” of increased sunspot activity, a change of direction in the prevailing westerly winds over Asia, and a “di-pole” atmospheric pressure phenomenon taking place in the Indian Ocean.

Turn the page and there’s a naked girl.

Talking about the heat is good for the local economy, since it drives up sales of beverages, air conditioners and summer clothing. The big news this season is that Japanese women, who are world famous for hating the sun, have been wrong all along. Though traditional white summer apparel and parasols do reflect the sun, they do not keep out those nasty ultraviolet rays, which simply bounce off your clothing and then bounce off something else back to your unprotected skin.

Black is where it’s at, because black absorbs the sun’s rays. Of course, it also absorbs the heat that the rays carry, but you can’t have everything. That’s why this summer you see lots of women with long black dresses, black gloves, black parasols and those huge welding-mask visors, even when it’s sweltering outside.

Of course, women are still more sensible than men, who, in accordance with Japanese business culture, wear full suits even when the thermometer is pushing 40 C. Every summer, but this one especially, all the women’s magazines carry detailed articles about reibo taisaku (air-conditioning countermeasures). Many OLs have to work in freezing offices because their male colleagues won’t take off their jackets or loosen their ties.

Similarly, when I see the weatherman on TV telling me that tomorrow is going to be another scorcher and the guy is wearing a dark suit, I instinctively reduce the preset temperature on the air conditioner another degree.

Such a reaction, which is more predictable than the weather itself, has mixed results. Economists fill TV talk shows and weekly magazine columns with statistics that say the heat wave will increase the nation’s GDP by 0.4 percent, which exactly offsets the negative impact of the American economic slowdown. The problem is that most of this growth is in the energy sector: more electricity being used for air conditioners, more heavy oil being consumed to drive the generators and more gasoline being pumped into all those air-conditioned cars stuck in traffic trying to get away from the “heat islands” that we used to call “cities.”

Other information that makes me feel hotter than I already am includes the comment that Okinawa is now cooler than Tokyo; a “wide show” report about an elderly man who had an air conditioner installed in his home for the first time in his life; and the factoid that the beer industry increased production back in March when the Meteorological Agency predicted this summer’s lingering heat wave.

Though I don’t “remember” how hot it was when I was a child growing up in New York, I do remember that my family didn’t have an air conditioner until I was 17 (and even then only in my parents’ room). I complained about the dog days and survived, just like other New Yorkers. Today, everyone I know has air-conditioning, and we complain even more.

Only scientists can tell us if the world actually is getting warmer, but that doesn’t prevent you from exercising your God-given right to say that today is the hottest day of your life.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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