WASHINGTON - We are told that because we drive gas-guzzling utility vehicles and insist on repeatedly exhaling, greenhouse gases are entrapping the warm air, raising the earth's temperature, which will inexorably melt the polar icecaps and drown us all.
And you were nibbling your nails about terrorism in the skies, or anthrax in the mails, or the prospect of post-prosperity.
Forget about the end of history; instead, stressniks worry about the end of winter.
We're not having one this year. No chestnuts roast on an open fire, and Jack Frost is not nipping at your nose. Sleigh bells are out of place when there's no winter in wonderland.
The data indicating widespread de-winterization are not anecdotal. (Construe data as plural when waxing scientific.) According to the World Meteorological Organization, the average surface temperature in 2001 will be 57.96 degrees Fahrenheit. In 140 years of recorded data, this heated-up year is topped only by the scorcher of 1998.
Let the experts debate the cause for this hot December (El NiM-qo's southern oscillation?) and whether this weather is an aberration. The fact is that it is unseasonably warm. The impact of this fact is felt in the lives of the legion of the stressed.
Furriers are tearing their hair out; travel to sunny climes is laughable as climes converge; and 2,000 black bears in Massachusetts are refusing to hibernate. At Loeb's deli in Washington, D.C., hotdogs are out and cold cuts are in. Rap singers no longer strive to be cool. In interpersonal relationships, frigidity is at last finding its appeal.
In the Oval Office, for the first time in 30, years the air conditioning is likely to be turned on full blast to allow a crackling fire in the president's fireplace.
The issue is upon us: What does the Bush administration intend to do about the climate crisis? At the State Department, sweating doves are urging reconsideration of the Kyoto Protocol, as well as the abandonment of oil drilling in the American Arctic and an advisory to unbutton topcoats.
At the Pentagon, however, more realistic analysts have noted recent meteorological reports that, contrary to the worldwide trend, winter in Russia has been unusually nippy - indeed, minus 60 Centigrade was recorded across southern Siberia. An outside panel of impartial experts, Team Rummy, has been tasked to find out why Vladimir Putin has been able to maintain bracing temperatures while George W. Bush presides over an alarming call of the mild.
To meet the threat, the Justice Department has re-prioritized the FBI mission and launched a hugely popular War on Warmth. A roundup of 5,000 visitors with a suspicious absence of suntans is sure to meet with near-universal applause.
Although professional contrarians and publicity-seeking iconoclasts object to the administration's morale-building campaign, these media misfits are being characterized by the attorney general as "heatmongers" who aid and abet the evil forces perpetrating ever-milder winters.
Cynical mediacrities and other Democrats attribute a political motive to the president's unifying War on Warmth. (That phrase was hastily selected by the White House press secretary to replace the ill-considered "Crusade for Cold," which had unfortunate religio-cultural connotations dating to a 13th-century Saharan sirocco.)
Republicans, meanwhile, are rallying 'round the president's military metaphor, noting that warmth is sure to be even more unpopular in August as the 2002 congressional campaign gets under way.
Most profoundly gripped by the War on Warmth are the academicians of anguish. Life will never be the same, they moan. Farewell to the invigorating days of dashing through the snow, seeing your breath turn to vapor in the cold air, feeling the tingle of snowflakes that land on your cheeks and eyelashes. Gone, all gone is the crisp clarity of seasonal change - now we must live with the unrelenting stress of mild weather, month after month.
At holiday time, I, too, miss the white winter of yesteryear. I long for the return of its happily benumbed fingers and merrily slush-spattered trousers.
But count me not among those creating a climate of opinion resigned to the terror of permanent abnormality. Soon enough there'll be a change in the weather, and a change in us.
William Safire is a columnist for The New York Times.