Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

January 8, 2014

A polar vortex, malfunctioning pellet stove and politicians pitching climate change

— — When temperatures fall into the single digits and even tumble below zero  — as we’ve seen in the Bluefield area over the past few nights — folks are left with little choice but to crank up the heat. After all, when it is 7 degrees below zero — as was the case Monday night — things will start cooling inside very fast.

A polar vortex — our new word in the newsroom for the month — will apparently do that.

As fate would have it, my primary heating source went on the fritz a few weeks ago. The wood pellet stove — once an affordable and reliable source of great heat — decided to do the exact opposite of what it was supposed to do. Instead of warming the upstairs area, it instead started to smoke up the house when it was about 20 degrees outside. I had to open up all of my windows, and the doors, in order to get the smell of smoke out.

I didn’t realize the extent of the smoke smell until a day or two later when a few of my co-workers, Anne and Amy in particular, made mention of a smell of smoke in the newsroom. For the record, I didn’t smell any smoke. So I largely ignored their comments. But Anne — our new reporter who has apparently developed a nose for smoke — later concluded the smell was coming from my winter coat sitting in the chair right beside of her desk. Then I realized she was probably right. The two winter coats were sitting on the couch when the pellet stove started to emit smoke upstairs. And the big couch was relatively close to the area of the pellet stove.

To make a long story short, I’ve had to wash a lot more clothes over the past couple of weeks than I normally would do in an average week.

In the interim I’ve also had to use more electric heat than I would during a normal winter. I realized as such after shelling out nearly $200 for the monthly electric bill last month. It’s not normally that high, as the old pellet stove was pretty energy efficient.

I’m in the process of exploring additional heating sources, including gas. I’m not for sure how well that is going to work out as I’ve been told by more than a few folks that the tank has to be filled up on a pretty regular basis. But gas heat appears to be the best option at the moment.

lll

The arctic air we’ve been dealing with over the past couple of nights is enough to make the whole global warming/climate change argument seem like a lot of hot air on a very cold day. But some scientists and talking heads on television are already linking the so-called polar vortex to climate change. Yet the scientists are normally right, and most appear convinced that the world’s average yearly temperatures are rising. Former President Bill Clinton was even on television just the other day talking about climate change during the inauguration ceremony for new New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

I don’t seem to recall Clinton spending a lot of time talking about global warming during his eight years in office. But I guess he didn’t have to considering that former Vice President Al Gore was busy leading up that discussion back in the ’90s. During a campaign stop last year on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., for now Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe, Clinton even made a brief mention of carbon capture projects linked to clean-coal technology. I realize, of course, that skilled politicians will craft their speeches to the region and specific audiences they are speaking to. And folks in New York City are apparently concerned about climate change. After all, many scientists are warning that rising ocean levels could one day threaten cities like New York.

I will admit that the seasons seem to be a bit out of whack at times. And that has been the case for a couple of years now. But it still gets cold in the winter — as it always has.  And it still gets hot in the summer. Time will ultimately tell if climate change brings the great global catastrophe that some scientists and politicians are predicting. But hey — we’ve already had a polar vortex. So I guess anything is possible.

It is certainly easy to dismiss the claims of those politicians and scientists when we have nights and days as cold we have seen over the past few days. January is always a difficult month here in the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia. We expect to see snow, the occasional monster snowstorm and very cold air. And the first few days of 2014 are living up to that historical reputation.

I already miss the pellet stove. I’ve spent far more money on heat in recent days than what I’m used to. I will resist the temptation to blame the extreme cold on climate change. Neither will I blame it on coal. But I will still give credence to what scientists are saying. As it is only wise to be an informed citizen on all matters.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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