THERE WAS A RUNNING JOKE in my house when I was growing up about how Philadelphians handled the weather. We lived a couple hours north of here, just outside of Scranton, where for some reason it’s always colder, grayer and snowier. (“Prozac City,” someone once called it.) But my father went to law school in Philly in the ’50s, and he would regale us with tales of how the natives here freaked at the sight of a single snowflake. His favorite example: People would simply abandon their cars in the middle of the Schuylkill Expressway and take off on foot, rather than try to drive in the snow.
For all our blue-collar yo-don’t-mess-wit’-me toughness, when it comes to weather, Philadelphians have long been weenies. And my sense is that this has only gotten worse—didn’t Ed Rendell call us a bunch of wusses when the Eagles postponed a playoff game two years ago? Still, maybe our aversion to extremes is understandable. Unlike in Minnesota, or Vegas, or London, the weather here in our moderate slice of the mid-Atlantic would seem to be the very definition of “normal”: hot for a couple of months in summer, cold for a couple of months in winter, with generally lovely springs and falls. So how will our psyches react if climate change changes us from a city of moderation to one of extremes? How will we handle droughts? Severe storms? Boardwalks that get washed away?
One possibility is that, well, we turn into Prozac City. A 2010 report from the American Psychological Association looked at the potential impact of climate change on mental health and found, not surprisingly, that reactions to disasters and extreme weather can range from post-traumatic stress disorder to a sense of despair about the future.
The other possibility, though—and this brings us back to where we started, because it’s admittedly conjecture piled on top of speculation layered on top of supposition—is that it will somehow make Philadelphians a little less hotheaded, a little less likely to get up in each others’ grills. After all, if you’re constantly being buffeted by droughts and hurricanes and questionable drinking water, the fact that the Eagles still haven’t won the goddamned Super Bowl doesn’t seem quite as important.
Personally, I’m not sure how concerned I am. The changes we’ll see—if they’re coming at all—will take place gradually, so we might not even notice them. (What’s that old example about putting a frog in a pot of water and slowly turning up the heat?) And by the time the scariest stuff arrives, I’ll likely be dead anyway.
On the outside chance I’m not, however, I have a request of my great-grandchildren: On New Year’s Day 2064, just before I turn 100 years old, I’d like to be picked up and driven to Philadelphia’s new domed stadium to watch the inaugural Pennsylvania Peach Bowl. I know it will be a tradition Philadelphians come to love.