People Hate Being Outside

When people like to go outside (Arnold Arboretum)

Spring is here in New England, so we’re finally getting out and about voluntarily, instead of being forced to go outside in order to shovel snow or wade through the drifts to our cars.  The trees are budding, the daffs are out, and you can wear short sleeves without risking hypothermia.  It’s now actually pleasant to walk to places.

When they don't (Back Bay, Jan 2011)

Except when it’s raining.  Or when the pollen count kicks your immune system into overdrive.  Or when the wind lifts you off your feet.   It’ll be nicer in another couple of weeks, but then it’ll get too hot for anything but the beach. Then there’s another four week pleasant period in the fall, and then it’s winter again.

It makes me think about how little time I actually do spend outside.    There’s the voluntary stuff, the strolls and the sports and the gardening, but that only occupies a few hours a week and then only in the pleasant periods.   The involuntary stuff – the walks to the car, the snow shoveling, and the lawn mowing – really doesn’t amount to much.    If I average it out over the entire year, it comes to maybe 10 minutes per day.

If I used the bus or had to bicycle, it would be more.  If I had covered parking and someone else to shovel and mow, it would be less.  In fact, I think you can set up a wealth index according to how much time you have to spend outside:

  • Too poor – have to sleep outside
  • Poor – have to work outside, E.g. farm laborers
  • Doing fine – Spend an hour a day outside getting somewhere.
  • Rich – Drive everywhere, and only walk to or from cars.  (There are actually more vehicles in the US, 255M, then people 15 and over, 245M)
  • Too rich – Drive from a covered garage to a covered jetway.

It’s as if people don’t actually like being out in the open.  There’s, you know, weather out there.   Even farmers drive around in air-conditioned tractors these days.    If people aren’t avoiding cold and snow, they’re avoiding heat and UV.  Sure, they say they like Nature, but only when she’s in a very pleasant mood.   Most of Nature on most of the planet is pretty nasty.   We evolved while living outside, but that was a long time ago in a very different climate.   Now we avoid it to an extent that would astonish our ancestors.

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