The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Won’t address climate change for yourselves? How about for the guy who designs heat maps?

Comment

Hello, everyone! Don’t panic, but it is very urgent that we take action about the climate! To save lives? To keep our national commitment? To preserve the species who require a certain range of temperatures to live? Yes, yes absolutely for those reasons!

But also for me, personally, the guy who designed all the maps that use a color scale to show how hot it is, because I did not anticipate that we would be operating in this range of temperatures, and I don’t know what happens after red.

Follow Alexandra Petri's opinionsFollow

To put this in perspective, say you are the inventor of the mood ring. You lavish care on all the colors and associations, anticipating that the ring will get to play through blue and green and mauve and ultramarine. But the ring wearer is simply, horribly stressed about the climate all of the time, and instead of seeing lots of colors, you just see grim, unremitting blackness. Well, something like this is happening to my map, and it is awful! Maybe the ... 22,943rd most awful thing that is happening! Could be lower! Then again, sometimes people’s priorities surprise you!

Henry Olsen

counterpointNo, Biden shouldn’t declare a national emergency on climate

My color scale was selected with care. Each color had a meaning. Green was pleasant; yellow, a bit hotter; orange, downright unpleasant. Red — simply too hot! I did not plan anything beyond red, really. I guess I thought about it idly. I said, you know, as a fun thought experiment, what if it were to get above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in Britain on a regular basis and people still wanted to know the weather? Is there a color beyond red? I hear you saying: hot pink! But I think people might view that as an outbreak of gender, or something. I made that map and it just looked very fun, like the whole continent was doing some kind of promotion for Greta Gerwig’s new Barbie movie. So that felt like a nonstarter. I thought about purple, but purple is red mixed with blue, which feels cooler to me. You may say, but then why is purple below blue on the cold end of the map, if that’s true? I am willing to concede that maybe purple is in the wrong place, but I don’t think the right place for it is above red.

In the meantime, I am trying to come up with stopgap solutions, but none of them is pleasing. Is a brighter red hotter, or should it be a darker, more charred-looking red? I suppose we could try to get people to remember that blue-hot is hotter than red-hot, but, again, I think that just makes the map look cool, or worse, patriotic.

My point is, unless you are here with some kind of innovative new color that is clearly hotter than red and won’t create these ambiguities, our only alternative is to stop climate change. If you won’t do it for the charismatic megafauna or the less charismatic fauna of normal size, or for your grandchildren, or for yourselves, do it for me, the guy who designed the heat scale for weather maps.I know this is a stupider reason than the reasons that already exist for you to take action, but people often do things for asinine reasons that they would not do for good ones, so maybe if you think about me having to color the map a confusing shade of vermilion or cochineal or, I guess, go back around? I have nothing! you will take pity in a way that you didn’t when human beings were literally dying? I don’t know, man. I’m not sure how many more heat waves like this my map can take. And that is the problem, of course. My map.

Loading...