200 S Ave 66, Los Angeles, CA 90042
Sam Bloch, Journalist
Climate Change Chic in the Garb-Age
“The sun shines brighter. The hottest days are hotter. The wettest days are wetter, due to brief, powerful storms that dump buckets of tropical rain on the city. So how do we feel? What are we wearing?”
Sam Bloch is a journalist in New York. A staff writer at The Counter, he has also written for The New York Times, L.A. Weekly, Places Journal, Art in America, CityLab, Artnet News and others. A graduate of the Columbia Journalism School, he used to live in one of Los Angeles’s shadiest neighborhoods.
Climate Change Chic in the Garb-Age
Los Angeles in the twenties. Urban heat is dissolving the clouds and banishing a few white wisps to the periphery. With clearer skies, the sun shines brighter. The hottest days are hotter, and the wettest days wetter, due to brief, powerful storms that dump buckets of tropical rain on the city. So how do we feel? And what are we wearing?
On a typical day in this future, I might step out onto a sidewalk that burns like sand in powerful sunlight. The asphalt roads shimmer. It’s a long walk to the bus stop, and in the heat, my heart beats faster. Blood rushes to my skin. And how should I cool down? Imagine wearing a hemp or linen dress, long and loose. Like an ancient wind tower, it pulls air rising from my feet to my neck, and it whooshes over my skin. A soft breeze to carry the heat away.
In hot, arid climates, airflow keeps us cool, and so does moisture. Think of a shade tree that imperceptibly mists the air around it. Though science fiction or metaphor, could I take a tree with me, as I journey through the streets—a personal, portable canopy? The leafy branches of a young sapling, extending out and over my head, would cast about six feet of shade in every direction. Underneath, I would feel like myself again. My blood circulates normally again. I think clearly. I stop squinting. And when this tree matures, let’s say, the portable canopy would become less a parasol than a cocoon. A full-body shelter that droops and shelters me fully from the sun, as if inside a weeping willow—cool, damp and dark.
During now-seasonable winter scorchers, my arboreal outfit would wither in the heat. At home, I would pull off the leaves and soak them in an ice bath. Before I venture outside, I wrap them around my arms and legs. I trudge down the street in my climate armor, absolutely soaked, trailed by drops of water. I am an island.
In the years ahead, scientists predict climatic whiplash—the year-to-year snap, from dry to wet, that we normally experience before mudslides in the foothills. Atmospheric rivers—“giant conveyor belts of water in the sky,” a veteran journalist called them—will carry more Pacific moisture from the ocean, and heavier rains will make landfall. Could a wearable shelter protect us from both sun and rain? Could that same suit, which keeps me moist in oppressive heat, also keep me dry and warm during a downpour? And could it allow me to be my most productive—that is, could it free my hands for something else? Something other than clutching an umbrella, or impulsively grabbing a free newspaper to protect my hair from a sudden shower as I run to my car?
During weeks of constant, 95-degree heat, more wildfires will torch the landscape. Dust and smoke will mingle with ozone. A gust will blow in and I cough, harsh and brittle. Imagine converting that tree suit into a mask. I wrap the misty, fragrant leaves around my head, fitted like a mask. They clean and filter my air—whether the stuff of fires, or the respiratory aerosols emitted by a wide-eyed pedestrian, rubbernecking as they pass me. I breathe in, and the air is fresh and cool.