Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ladies and Gentleman, Stop Your Engines!

I live in the hottest part of the United States: Oklahoma. Last year, according to, our state broke one record after another, including

·      Hottest summer on record since the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, and New Mexico
·      Hottest mean summer temperature since 1895 for the months July to September in Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana
·      Gage, OK earned the OK honor of the hottest temperature on record for any month ever; at 113 degrees, Gage sweated its way into record books
·      Oklahoma City, OK tied its own record of all-time high temperature in July 2011; that record still stands at 109 degrees
·      Hottest month of all time across the entire state: July 2011
·      Both of Oklahoma’s large cities, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, broke record-high temperatures for the hottest day ever; Oklahoma City was 110 degrees on July 9, beating out the all-time record high set on July 6 in 1996, and Tulsa was 113, forever retiring the hottest day record set in 1936 when the State was nothing but dust
·      Oklahoma City enjoyed 63 consecutive days with temperatures in triple digits during 2011

Such record temperatures have consequences. Foremost among them is drought. Farmers and ranchers watched crops dry and die. The demand for quality hay to feed livestock was so great that Oklahoma’s governor set aside restrictions for the amount that could be hauled in one truckload. Cattlemen who had spent three decades building quality stock sold off a lifetime of work because they could not feed their cattle. Creeks and streams shrank to trickles; ponds receded until only cracked, dry dirt remained.

This year of 2012 has developed into another hot, brutal summer. Cities large and small have initiated water rationing plans. Burn bans are in place because the plains and prairies are dry tinder. Fire departments spend an entire year’s worth of funding in a summer trying to stop wild fires before they take homes and cattle, but a drive in any cardinal direction across the state will bring travelers to blackened, scorched land.

The cost of hay and corn are up. Electric bills stretch budgets. Lawns and plants  once well tended wither. Elderly people, unable to stay cool, die. Birds pant, and great game birds venture into neighborhoods in search of prey. A beautiful hawk landed on my suburban fence to survey the bird feeding and watering area that my husband tends daily.

The local news advises us to avoid running dishwashers and other appliances during peak hours. Still, cities experience brown-outs and sometimes several hours of black-outs. We know not to mow our lawns before mid-morning, not to refill our auto gas tanks very early in the morning or late at night when gas fume evaporation will have the least harmful effects upon human beings and the ozone dome. We have learned to shower with a bucket so that we can harvest the water run-off and use it for plants.

We speak to each other about the heat. We listen to local weathermen and turn our full attention to them if they speak the word, rain, but we know the odds are against hearing that word. We know that triple-digit day-time highs and night-lows no lower than the high 70s are the norm for now. We dare mosquitoes when the sun sets so that we can breathe outside air.

Our state endures, but we are guilty of being our own worst enemies in two ways. First, we reelect a climate-change denier, Senator James Inhofe, a buffoon on the world stage. He has an open palm for oil and energy donations, represents Oklahoma, but never with my vote.

Second, and this may seem petty, but we still act irresponsibly, especially from the hours of two to four every afternoon, hours that happen to coincide with one of Oklahoma’s most successful businesses, Sonic Drive-Ins, now operating nation-wide. From two to four every afternoon seven days a week, Sonics across the land sell drinks at half-price. Even the enormous Route 44 offering forty-four thirst-busting ounces is half-price so the drive-in parking slots fill quickly from and the drive-through line is long.

I’m often among this herd gathering at the Sonic watering hole, but I’m the maverick in the bunch. I choose the drive-in parking slips and turn my car engine off. I must shout at the speaker to place my order because cars left and right do not turn off their engines. They let their cars idle, they waste their gasoline dollars, they pour fuel fumes into the atmosphere, and they annoy the fire out of me.

They shouldn’t be so irresponsible! They should be more mindful of the heat radiating from their metal cars baking in the sun, from the engines laboring to cool an idle car, from the polluted air surrounding us. They should turn off their engines for the few minutes it takes to be served, then they should be on their way again.

So all you Okies and anyone else trying to weather the summer, turn off the dang engine. Swear off drive-through lanes. Park, walk in where it’s cool, or choose to allow one thin bead of sweat to shine on your brow while you wait for the carhop. And with the pennies you save in fuel efficiency, buy a tree. Plant it anywhere the law allows. Trees help keep us cool. After all, did you see Arkansas listed in any of the heat records at the beginning of this post? No! Yet it sets east of Oklahoma and Texas, west of Louisiana. It should have been as hot as those three states, but it wasn’t, and it isn’t, thanks to the Ozark National forest.

Let’s all work to cool it down by 1) voting to send anyone except Inhofe to Washington, 2) turning off our car engines while idling, and 3) planting trees. We can do it, America! I believe.