Earth's Air-Conditioned Nightmare

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As you gape in disbelief at last month's electricity bill, it may be of some comfort to know that all that air conditioning wasn't an extravagance. July 1998 didn't just feel like the hottest month the world has known since records have been kept; it really was. New data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association puts the average global temperature at 61.7 degrees (not all that hot, but remember this includes Antarctica), which is half a degree higher than anything we've ever seen.

Al Gore, who has spent each month since April staging photo-ops on climate data, lost no time in sharing his shock and dismay at this new world record. "Running for President on the weather is a novel strategy," says TIME Deputy Washington Bureau chief Jef McAllister, "but Gore seems determined to give it a try."

There's more than just the Veep's enviro-mania and the "gee, isn't it hot" factor at work here. Higher temperatures are cited as evidence of global warming, which equals a good reason for the Senate to pass the meager emissions-cut treaty hammered out -- with Gore's help -- at Kyoto. In more immediate terms, warmer weather also means more disease. The World Health Organization is already reporting a jump in the number of malaria cases, not to mention cholera and the deadly hantavirus. All the more reason for Gore to ride the El Nino bandwagon -- and for you to turn the fan up another notch.