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'Of Ice and Men': Our relationship with ice and snow is complicated at best, and perilous to the planet

Fred Hogge is an historian and filmmaker.
Pegasus Books
Fred Hogge is an historian and filmmaker.

The beginning passage of Of Ice and Men, certain to be one of the most talked-about books of the year, is (pardon the pun), chilling: “Ice is a serial killer. It’s not that it wants you dead, but, given the right conditions and enough time, it will end you.”

In the book, Fred Hogge chronicles mankind’s dominion over artificial ice and cooling.

“These create enormous amounts of emissions, which in turn lead to climate change, which then starts to melt the ice in our polar regions … and that creates an enormous number of problems,” said Hogge. “So, for all the success that ice has given us, it has also allowed our population to explode … it's a staggering number.”

Hogge visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about this fascinating element of word history. But there are also some lighthearted stops along the way: they chat about how one particular Winter Olympics and a James Bond film changed our relationship with skiing and ski resorts forever.

Read the transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. On this… well, another rather cold January morning here in Idaho, we consider ice. Not so much what the natural elements have delivered to our doorstep, but the ice that we create for our comfort, for our consumption, our leisure….for so much of our lives. But at what cost? And therein lies one of the many questions at the heart of a new book. It is titled Oof Ice and Men, and it is certain to be one of the most talked about books of the new year. Its author is Fred Hogge. He joins us from Thailand, where it is already tomorrow morning. Fred Hogge, good morning.

FRED HOGGE: Good morning. Thank you so much for having me.

PRENTICE: It is my understanding that this all began with you making cocktails.

HOGGE: Yes, this is true. And so, I, like many people, work as a bartender when I was at college and started making cocktails then in my twenties, and I never really thought about the ice that one would grab out of the machine and shove into the cocktail shaker and do one thing to get your customers inebriated. But then I was helping out my wife, who is a cookery teacher and instructor at a class she was doing, and she asked me to come along and make a couple of drinks and I happened to remark casually as I was shaking up a drink, “Without ice, cocktails don't exist.” So one of the punters said, “Prove it.” And I thought, okay, “That's an interesting challenge.” So, I started reading about it, trying to work out when I got into the mixed drink, which is an almost impossible question to answer. As are so many of the questions in this book. The more I dug, the more fascinated I became by the idea that we have this this product simply there in pretty much most of our kitchens around the world, we don't even think about it. I can walk out of this office on a hot day, go to the fridge, make myself a glass of ice water and come back refreshed and carry on doing what I'm doing. I and everybody else takes this completely for granted. And actually, it's a remarkable thing.

PRENTICE: And speaking of taking things for granted, I think one of the first things that jumped out for me was…. I've never read anything like this before, and I'm guessing it's because normally people don't write about this topic, something that we take for granted.

HOGGE: It's often the way, particularly as you go back in history. What people choose to write about tends to be what interests them. When something seems unremarkable, it's often therefore unremarked upon. The other factor when we start going back into the ancient sources and we know that ice was being used way back in the mists of time, is what books actually survive and how a text gets transmitted through the generations To us now, these things, often that transmission comes down to accident and inclination.

PRENTICE: It's wonderful to learn about….well, the Persian use of ice, and how ice was stored and sold on the streets of ancient Rome and so much more. But I've got to be honest, one of my favorite chapters of the book includes a bit of history on the commercialization of skiing and ski resorts. Goodness knows that resorts go back quite some time here in Idaho…in Sun Valley and other great destinations.

HOGGE: Well, I think the first thing to say is that in Idaho, particularly with Sun Valley, that was the pioneering first American ski resort. And it was the brainchild of a guy called Averell Harriman, who was the chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad. And it was his vision to create this thing that led to the invention of the ski lift. And so many of the things that should, one, go skiing today we take completely for granted, and that can be firmly laid at his doorstep and for its location in Idaho, you have a fantastically named Austrian count called Felix Schaffotsch, who was hired by Harriman to scour the United States for the perfect spots to put a ski resort, which just happened to be in your own first state of Idaho.

PRENTICE: But a real global explosion occurred in the 1960s involving what color television and the Olympics and a James Bond movie.

HOGGE: It takes a while for it to catch on in the postwar era. And as you as you rightly say, the two key drivers to its massive explosion in the late sixties and into the seventies are the televised version of the Winter Olympics. And as we mentioned, the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which is one of the first major motion pictures to really put skiing at its heart and skiing has featured in the movies before. But this is the first time that you're really put down and dirty within it. The cameras special camera rigs were designed to actually allow the cameraman to get right in and amongst the skiing. So we're not talking blue screen special effects anymore. We're not talking things that just don't look real. You're right amongst the action and it still looks absolutely breathtaking. Not long before I left London, I saw the movie on the big screen at the National Film Theater in London, and it still really looks spectacular. I mean, it makes you want to go to the mountains. And that was one of the big things about those very early Bond films was they were very much about of inspiration and affluence and showing people the wonderful things that they could have if they were lucky to do it. Mean Jamaica in the first one, the Orient Express and the second one. And we go into the Alps and Goldfinger, but the Bahamas, then Japan. I mean, these these are international travel, while it existed in the area, is not the global phenomenon that we take for granted again today. And so that sense of desire of wow. And sort of for European audiences, particularly the Alps, were not that far away.

PRENTICE: Goodness knows, Winter Olympics had been on television before, but not in full color. And in 1968, they were in color. And of course, there was the icon that was Jean-Claude Killy.

HOGGE: Yes, absolutely. The Grenoble games were the first ones to really be broadcast properly in the United States. The previous games… the 1964 games became a documentary feature film. And the previous one before that, which I think was…..

PRENTICE: I think it was in Squaw Valley in 1960.

HOGGE: Squaw Valley was 60, and that had some limited television coverage in the United States, but it was all black and white, and it helped, of course, that it was on the same time zone. Right? But with the Grenoble Games, although only two events were actually broadcast live, the opening ceremony and the ladies figure skating finals, it was all broadcast the same day. You didn't, of course, no Internet, so there were no spoilers. You didn't know who was going to win when you sat down to watch the. So, it was effectively as live coverage. And of course, the other thing that we have to remember is that back then we lived in a three-channel environment, right? So that meant that when you sat down to telly, you didn't have a great deal of choice, so you would stumble across things that you didn't know that you were interested in. And that could spark the imagination. And that's really what the Grenoble Games did, and especially the French star, Jean-Claude Killy, who won at that point an unprecedented three downhill skiing events and became a global superstar.

PRENTICE: Indeed. Your story gets gravely serious when we understand that ICE has indeed been a gift to civilization. But with our manufacture of ice and cold, it is ultimately a risk to our very existence.

Fred Hogge
Fred Hogge
Fred Hogge

HOGGE: Yes, this is the sobering reality. And it's not just ice, but ice manufacture. But it's an interesting window into the problems that we face on a warming planet. And what ice has basically allowed us to do since it was effectively democratized 200 years ago, is it's allowed our species to absolutely explode. Refrigeration and air conditioning do two very interesting things. The first thing with refrigeration is we take it for granted, but it allows us access to better nourishment, and that makes us healthier. It means that more children can successfully be born. There is a very interesting theory that and we often talk about the baby boomers being the result of lots of GIs coming home from the war like of lusty Ulysses to their home, to their waiting Penelope's and making all these babies. But the data doesn't support that idea. The fact of the matter is noncombatants were having just as many children as returning war veterans. Something else is going on here. And that led a Nobel Prize winning economist called Gary Becker to formalize this theory in the mid-sixties called appliance Fertility. And what he's basically saying is that the access that fridges provide and by this point by the late forties, 1950s, most American homes, up to 90% of American homes had a refrigerator. And what this means is better nutrition being readily available creates better general health. It reduces the amount of labor that's required to raise children, which means the children are more successfully brought into adult health. Traditionally, before this era, first of all, having children was the most dangerous thing that a woman could do in her life. And second of all, most children did not get out of childhood. That's why you look at Victorian families that have 15, 16, 17 children and mainly three, maybe three make it. But the fridge changes that. The other thing that happens, we notice the drop off in the baby boom, which we tend to say it ends around 64. 65 is concurrent with the advent of the contraceptive pill, giving people more fertility control so they have more choice about the number of children that they have. So, it's no accident that these the fridge and then the pill bookend the boom. So more people puts enormous pressure on the world in which we live. And one of the things that we often forget, because we're always focused on economic growth and success and all the rest of it, is that we live on a small planet of finite resources. There are now, as of last month, 8 billion people living on planet Earth. And that's an enormous amount of pressure. That's an enormous amount of demands for resources, be they feud, be they fuel, be they whatever. And that places enormous strain on the system. And that's the driver that is ultimately underpinning our demand for the fuels that are creating global warming pressures. The second thing that goes on is air conditioning, and that allows people to move into areas where they wouldn't otherwise be. And that creates as creates different strains on our environment. Traditionally, in the post-Civil War period onwards, until the next hundred years after the general migration in the United States is from south to north, which is how we get such wonderful cultural blessings as the Chicago blues in the postwar era that reverses and people start moving to the South, which leads to enormous demographic shifts into Florida, into Texas, into California. And that that demand for air conditioning is again, requires an enormous amount of energy to make these places habitable. Air conditioning alone consumes about 6% of all the electricity used in the United States. It costs something like $29 Billion a year to keep all those air conditioners going. Air conditioning then allows people to build buildings that don't necessarily stay cool because you've got an electrical system that will do the cooling for you. Classic case in point is the United Nations building in New York City, which I believe was built in the late forties. And that thing is an oven if you turn the aircon off. One of the consultants on the project was the famous French architect, Le Corbusier, and he advocated using a system called Soleil or sun blockers, which are like sort of concrete in front of the windows to create shade. You see it a lot here in. Thailand in the surviving 1960s architecture. And he was overruled.  And it cost something like $10 million a year to work on that building. And if you didn't, it would roast the Burj Khalifa in in Dubai. It's just glass and steel and it's basically the world's tallest greenhouse. If you turn off the air conditioning. These create enormous amounts of emissions, which in turn lead to climate change, which then starts to melt the ice in our polar regions and in the Himalayas. And that creates an enormous number of problems as well. So for all the success that ice has given us to allow us as a population to absolutely just staggeringly explode from 1.2 billion before, just after the war to 8 billion today, it's a staggering number.And the reason why I think this is so important for us to talk about is because for most of us going about our day to day lives, it's very, very hard to imagine how little old us as individuals, as families or small communities could have any effect on something as big as a planet. But, you know, as the Frank Sinatra song High Hopes reminds us, a lot of small creatures can move very big things. We have to start taking into account just that we are a massive, massive burden on our resources and there's nowhere else for us to go. There's nothing else for us to use. So we have to start taking, I believe, a measure of responsibility for the ongoing to have an ongoing habitable biosphere.

PRENTICE: And indeed, the subtitle is “How We Have Used Coal to Transform Humanity.” The name of the book is Of Ice and Men. I could not get enough of this book. Congratulations. He is Fred Hogge from half a world away. And I'm guessing midsummer in Thailand, where people will be reaching for ice in a glass at some point today.

HOGGE: Oh, they most certainly will.

PRENTICE: Fred Hogge, thank you so very much for giving us some of your time this morning.

HOGGE: Well, thank you so much for having me. I've really enjoyed chatting to you.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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