Climate Colors Life Satisfaction

No plant, no animal, no human is indifferent to cold and heat.

Dotted around the globe are many ancient buildings and structures left behind by societies that collapsed or vanished. Not infrequently, these monuments provide stark evidence of the part extremely cold and hot climates can play in human civilizations (Burroughs, 1997; Diamond, 2005). From the Norse who once lived by the shores of iceberg-strewn fjords on Greenland's west coast to the Maya who once lived in the seasonal-desert environment of the Copan Valley in western Honduras, past societies seem to have been overwhelmed by the effects of prolonged adverse weather. Even today, vast areas around the poles are rendered uninhabitable by ice sheets, and huge deserts at lower latitudes are equally effective in limiting human population. Human societies clearly tend to shun overly demanding cold and hot climates.

As elucidated in Chapter 1, humans have a physical and a cultural side. The existence of physically inhospitable areas in harsh climates automatically raises the question, therefore, whether climates also create culturally inhospitable areas - parts of the world where climate has shaped the inhabitants' lifestyle to be so strange and inconsistent that it is extremely difficult for others to make their way there. Or is this a nonissue? No one calls into question that life in the vegetable world and in the animal world has adapted to cold, temperate, and hot climates. Thus, it would be the first wonder of the world if human life were not adapted to climate, because this would mean that human evolution had somehow contrived to wipe out its own climatic underpinnings. There is no need to find out whether climates are taken into account when societies create cultures. Rather, the question should be to what extent and in what ways societies translate climates into values and practices that are passed on and changed from generation to generation in a nongenetic way.

Climate-culture links in man are a touchy subject given their history of untenable single-factor determinism (for an overview, see Sommers & Moos, 1976), even to the point of climate-based racism (e.g., Huntington, 1945). The topic needs to be handled with care, including a clear definition of climate and replications of climate-culture links found. Under the title "Assessing Thermal Climate,'' I therefore pay ample attention to the choice of a climate index that goes beyond the average level of temperature, incorporating seasonal variations in temperature. Harsh climate is defined, and some testable links between climatic demands, survival needs, and life satisfaction are proposed in the section "Climate, Needs, and Satisfaction.'' The following section, "Winters, Summers, and Life Satisfaction,'' contains a report of cross-national associations between greater climatic demands, on the one hand, and less happiness and more suicide as presumed opposite indicators of culturally embedded life satisfaction, on the other hand.

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