What is the significance of a single degree?

Each morning, I check the high and low for the day’s temperature. When I walk outside, I don’t mind if the temperature is 63 degrees instead of a forecasted 66 degrees. 99 instead of 102 poses no great difference. I’ll sweat through my shirt in either case. Though, my difference in pleasure per degree becomes much more acute on the other side of the scale. A bit of precipitation at 34 degrees is pure unhappiness. Step outside for a moment and a wet chill drips into your soul. As the temperature drops a few degrees, the scene changes. Soft fresh snow flakes fill the air. Smiles replace the chill, and the world is happy again.

A few degrees in annual average temperature can wreak havoc. The world, it seems, has been resting in a gentle thermal equilibrium for quite some time, wavering by less than three degrees in the last 10,000 years. The speculated results of a modern temperature increase are spectacular and dire. While locally, temperature in a single day can vary in the tens of degrees, the average global temperature remains relatively constant. The earth and atmosphere represent a huge thermal mass, so a serious quantity of heat needs to enter or leave our atmosphere in order to noticeably change average global temperatures.

In addition to oceans rising, desertification, and food and water shortages, an increase in global temperatures can lead to remarkable potential consequences. For instance, take the Clathrate Gun Hypothesis. Around the world there are areas of permafrost, that is, soil, rock or sediment that has been frozen solid for many years. Mixed in with the frozen soil, are large pockets of a Methane, a strong greenhouse gas. As the theory goes, a smaller increase in global temperature, could begin to melt the permafrost, leading to enormous methane releases and a significant increase in rate of global warming. Although it is quite unlikely that this theory is correct, its powerful to consider the large effect a degree could have on our world. An increase of a single degree knocking over the first domino, setting off a chain reaction with an unknown end.

Ninety Eight Point Six. To our human bodies, this temperature is a calling. Stray a bit higher, and you run into fevers and organ failure. Fall a bit lower and all of your bodily functions slow, blood flow stops, killing tissue. Find the middle way and all of your systems, chemical, cardiovascular, and cerebral, run smoothly. Life and death hang in a handful of degrees. The devil is in the degrees.

Degrees of separation help us define our community. Who do we know personally? Who lives in our community? Who exists in an entirely different world? As expected, the people who we feel the most comfortable with live in the first degree of separation. Though, I often feel more comfortable starting up a conversation with a person in circle three, four or five, than many of the people who live in the outskirts of my degree one circle. With first degree fellows, you have to remember quite a bit of past shared history to have a civil conversation. When was the last time we hung out, what do you do for work, did you tell me about that story in person or did I stalk you on social media… With someone new, the conversation can go any which way. Every topic is fresh and exciting because every conversation is brand new. As a conversationalist, you can reinvent yourself, never feeling pigeonholed by the things you may have said in the past.

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