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How "man" took nature and made it his own

Since there haven't been any scandals on the local political front this week and since it's still too early in the game to waste the ones I'm keeping in my back pocket, I'm taking a break from politics this week.

Since there haven't been any scandals on the local political front this week and since it's still too early in the game to waste the ones I'm keeping in my back pocket, I'm taking a break from politics this week. Actually, with the exception of wrapping up my shift doing momcare, I'm taking a break from everything this week and enjoying the last few days of warm sunshine I'm likely to feel until April.

The sunshine is courtesy of the geographic and climatic confluence of the U.S. southwest. The warmth is courtesy of both the sunshine and global warming, thanks to whose joint efforts it was still over 100°F earlier this month, having cooled to a very satisfactory 90°F since my arrival.

Global warming got a big boost this week when Richard Muller, a prominent physicist and former skeptic, pissed off the climate change deniers who'd funded his study of the world's surface temperatures by stating the obvious: the Earth is getting warmer and it's not the result of leftover dinosaur farts. The last report was he'd gone into hiding.

Anyone who has ever lived anywhere near Phoenix, Arizona, is uncomfortably aware of global warming. Unfortunately, many of the people living here have lost enough brain cells to the heat that they're suffering from one of its most tragic side effects - they've become Republicans. As Republicans, they can't admit global warming exists. It's a tenet of the party, just like lower taxes mean more jobs and we still don't believe the obviously fake birth certificate provided by that black man in the White House.

Fifty or so years ago, Phoenix was a cow town of moderate size. Its climate, while still approaching brutal during the six or so months of summer, was far more benign than it is today. The dog days of 110°F heat were moderated by an infinitesimal level of relative humidity; it was a dry sauna. The climate was healthful and healing to easterners and midwesterners wracked by cold, wet winters and humid, pollen-laden summers. By the time the bleakest days of February rolled around, just about anyone living north of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of the Rockies would have gladly sold their first-born to be basking in the Arizona sun.

Naturally it didn't take long for developers burdened with questionable scruples - which is to say all of them - to seize upon this wonder of nature. Tying up vast tracts of desert, they lured the ill and infirm, and particularly the asthmatic, westward with full-page newspaper ads offering the good life. They touted ranchettes, Westernese for tract houses, wide-open spaces, unlimited sunshine and youthful good health. To give this land of Gila monsters, rattlesnakes and saguaro cactus a more homey touch, at least one land baron went so far as to tie red apples onto scrubby pine trees and plunk them down in front of the ranch-style haciendas featured in his colour ads in newspapers as far-flung as Hoboken, New Jersey.

Frozen easterners took the bait and the race was on. From Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and states beginning with letters other then "I", they loaded their cars and came west in droves. The land they found was bizarre and unsettling, nothing like the homescapes they'd left behind. To make up for this shortfall, to make things more homey, they filled every square inch of dirt on their suburban lots with grass, rose bushes, oleander, peonies and assorted shrubs, none of which were remotely native to the desert. They built swimming pools and golf courses. They put down miles and miles of asphalt roadways and parking lots.

After 30 or so years of this behaviour a funny thing happened. They changed the climate of their new home. It began to more closely resemble what they'd left behind. Their allergies returned; after all, they'd brought with them all the things they were allergic to, things that were, until their arrival, absent from the natural landscape. In addition to introducing allergens, their lawns and decorative plants joined forces with their pools and asphalt to drive the dry desert air into the upper reaches of relative humidity. Phoenix became a wet sauna to a large degree through the onset of manmade weather patterns, though Republicans referred to it as an act of God.

Phoenix sits in a depression, not to say a hole, bordered on the east and northeast by the Superstition Mountains, on the south by the Gila River Mountains and on most of the rest of its perimeter by stinkin' desert. Mind you, the stinkin' desert is abloom with citrus groves, vegetable fields, tract housing and retirement communities as far as the eye can see, all made possible by grandiose water reclamation projects and 360 days of unrelenting sunshine per year.

Retirement communities define Phoenix almost as much as skiing defines Whistler. If the first real estate boom was aimed at people who'd grown tired of winter, the second was aimed at people who'd grown tired, period. Fuelled by sun, low taxes and vast subdivisions restricted to people older than 55, they came by the tens of thousands and joined the first batch of 20 th century settlers grown old and leathery in the sun.

If you've gotten to the point in life where geriatric medical care is something you care about, you can't do much better than the communities on Phoenix's western border. Just moving here makes you feel younger. That's because if you're still young enough to be able to move, you are younger than most of the rest of the population.

People who live around here worry about their health, their taxes and crime. I worry about going out in public. No, it's not because my pale complexion gives me away immediately in any game of Spot the Canuck or because I'm worried about getting carded at the liquor store. It's because the people here are really, really scary drivers.

I don't want to be accused of ageism or sweeping generalizations but the fact seems to be the older we get, how to put this gently, the less skilled our driving becomes. Maybe that's not right. Maybe we just stop caring how good or bad our driving is. Little things - like looking where we're going, especially when we're backing up - are simply less important. The result of this is to turn parking lots, the second highest category of land use in Phoenix after retirement communities, into a close approximation of carnival bumper car rides. People here don't park close to their destination because they're lazy, it's a survival tactic.

But I'm heading home where my main concerns for personal safety are really only self-inflicted ski injuries and irate readers, both of which I've missed here in retirementville.

See you at the all candidates' meetin'.