Saturday, February 06, 2010

Cold and Fat

Cold places tend to have fatty cuisines. The usual explanation for this, although I know of no rigorous test, is that cold weather requires us to burn lots of energy to stay warm, and our bodies respond to this greater demand by causing us to eat more rich foods.

This simple idea has several profound implications that I will now proceed to invent.

The first implication is that " burn lots of energy to stay warm" means something very similar to "increase metabolic rate." So people in colder environments should have higher metabolisms. This matches with the current experience of myself and my wife. For the past months the temperature outside our apartment has rarely gotten above freezing, the wind is always blowing and it is generally damp. Our apartment is somewhat difficult to heat, so it is generally cool and sometimes downright cold inside. We have been eating a very rich diet, and rather than gaining weight, I think we are both loosing a bit. And although the short days cause a degree of lethargy, I have been generally quite productive, with fewer problems of concentration than usual.

There is good reason to think, in fact, that colder climates lead to greater productivity. Colder countries are systematically more economically productive than hotter countries, air conditioning raises productivity considerably, and hot countries experience more economic growth in cool years than in warm ones. My preferred speculation is that this is because the experience of coolth induces greater physiological throughput, allowing for greater activity. If one needs to expend energy to keep oneself warm, why not put that energy to some good use, such as thinking, building, or working. Why shiver when I can use the same energy sharpening the knives or generating a hypothesis?

Allow me one further observation and conjecture. Germans, who eat very heavy diets but on the average are less heavy than Americans, are in the habit of opening all the windows whenever it gets warm inside, even if it is below freezing out. Two apparently unrelated stereo-types of modern Americans, both of which have some basis in fact, may in fact be causally related. These are, we are very fat, and we keep our houses very warm in the winter. Perhaps the miracle diet so many have been searching for should include turning down the thermostat. If we burn more calories when we experience cold, and we want to burn more calories, perhaps we should experience more cold.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A month of snow

A cubic meter of fluffy freshly fallen snow weighs about 80kg, while a cubic meter of water weighs a metric ton, 1000kg. This implies that a meter of fresh snow will melt into a paltry 8cm deep layer of water. Enough to make the ground very soggy, but not nearly as impressive as a meter of snow. As ice is slightly less dense than water (about 92% as dense) a meter of snow will squish down into a slightly thicker layer of ice, almost 9cm. A third possibility is to catch a plane to someplace warmer, where the snow never fell at all.