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Inclement Weather and Evolution

Jan 13th, 2014 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

Nick Kemper PhotoSome of you have been enduring extreme weather conditions this winter. I live in the temperate Northwest, salve where it is rare to have extremes of any kind except for extremely good microbrews and not-too-shabby coffee. We had a week or so of lows in the 20s, and that was bad enough for me. I don’t like the cold. The heat I don’t mind as much. When I was an impound driver I hated driving in the cold. I remember keeping my wheel-lift straps and tow lights in the cab so that I could more easily bend them on those rare occasions that we got well below freezing and stayed there.

We don’t see a lot of snow either, much to the dismay of my 10-year-old who was recently disappointed when a weather forecast turned out to be faulty and there was school-as-normal when he woke up in the morning. The night before, when reminded of his bedtime, he announced that he was staying up late because it was going to snow and school would be cancelled. I love the optimism. I hope the poor result doesn’t discourage him from visualizing on the external world’s behalf.

I’ve taken to wearing a scarf this winter, much more regularly than before. I have a nice, cozy office, but that walk to and from the car is uncomfortable and comfort has become a very important personal goal for me. Even in the office, when I come in and fire up the laptop and snuggle up to a warm cup of coffee, I’ll keep the coat and scarf on sometimes, until the heat becomes uncomfortable and I wake up to start work.

It is nice to live in an area where the lowest temperatures of the year are usually the high 20s, and the highest temperatures of the year are usually the high 90s, and where both only last a few days or maybe a week or two. As I get older, I can see why people start valuing a constant 76 degrees and end up moving to a climate that gets them somewhat close to that. There are times that I don’t mind the cold and inclement weather — four days in November called “elk season” — but believe me, the thermal underwear is in use in times like that and when I’m six miles out in the middle of nowhere I begin to dream of the truck heater.

It’s got me wondering, knowing what I purport to know about evolution and natural selection, why in God’s name did early humans wander off to places like Siberia or Wisconsin? I think we must have lost some of our resistance to the elements somewhere along the line. Or perhaps we spent a lot of time in the literal man-cave, stoking the fire and roasting prehistoric marshmallows.

Here’s an interesting theory that Malcolm Gladwell should write a book about (or maybe he already has and I’m just remembering it): new ventures are initiated by the unbalanced. Say you’re part of a tribe about 12,000 years ago and you’re all ensconced in some climate that you find comfortable, but the neighborhood is getting a little crowded and the young guy in the tribe whom everyone thinks is a little loony announces, “I’m going to head north, see what’s there.” So off he traipses and a few malcontents join him or follow him, and a generation or so later one of his offspring is inventing the bearskin dinner jacket, because darn it, it’s cold up north. And while we’re wondering why people ever moved away from the Equator, let’s ask why they were attacking and eating bears rather than slow, small, furry critters with dull teeth.

It’s because the guy who is a little unbalanced got antsy and most people are just followers, so almost any new venture will attract some kind of following. This helps me to understand why, when housing was so rudimentary, and central heating so central, that seemingly sane people started habitating in the inhabitable. And, 12,000 years later, here we are, trying to play football in wind chill -47.

Of course, the same factors are at work in business, science, medicine, sports and almost any field that grows. Clearly some of the greatest advances in these fields were concocted by risk-takers, which seems to suggest that growth does not occur logically. And that selection might not be so natural. “Thinking outside of the box” is the mantra of those of us who describe innovators, and we seem blissfully unaware that our own use of a cliché is decidedly within the box. We need to mix it up a little – “thinking outside the circle,” or “thinking outside the triangle.” The residual garbage pile of all of this is the “hit it big” syndrome that leads to average Joes spending 30 percent of their income on lottery tickets, or the guy who watches Lizard Lick and calls me to ask for a price on “one of them snatchers that hide in the bed of your pickup.”

I’ll bet Malcolm likes it in his warm office this time of year as well.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper