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From Politics To Pestilence: Everything Is Earlier

Leaves are falling in the summertime. School starts in early August in many places. Politicos are already talking about the presidential election — of 2016.

Everything is happening earlier.

According to various reports, the allergy season, the NFL season and the winter holiday shopping season seem to be occurring earlier. Fact is, all seasons — winter, spring, summer and fall – are showing up sooner.

"The seasons are coming earlier on land than they used to," says Alexander Stine of Harvard University's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, "because of changes in patterns of global winds over the last half century."

As the winds sweep across the planet, he explains, "they carry differing amounts of heat with them — depending on where they come from — and can thereby modulate when things warm up or cool down. In particular, the changes in the winds have been biggest at the end of the winter and have sped up the arrival of spring."

A 2009 analysis of global temperatures between the years 1850 and 2007, authored by Stine and others, reveals that the seasons are showing up about two days earlier than they were 50 years ago.

Physiologically, financially, culinarily — life is happening earlier. A recent New York Times story reports that the breasts of young American girls are developing earlier. Because of hypertechnology and global markets, we get financial information earlier. McDonald's just announced it is serving breakfast beginning at midnight instead of 5 a.m.

Earlier than ever, we get: news of the world, new books to read and new music to listen to.

What effect will all of this earliness ultimately have on our culture? In many ways, it's too early to tell.

Earliness Can Really Bug You

We do know this: There can be repercussions when the seasons arrive earlier.

The cherry tree blossoms in Washington, D.C., for instance, are trending earlier and earlier. The Washington Post reports that in 2012, the iconic trees bloomed five days earlier than they did in 1921, the first year that records were kept.

And summer pests appeared earlier than usual this year. Missy Henriksen of the National Pest Management Association, explains that according to the NOAA National Climatic Data Center, the first half of 2012 was the warmest on record for the U.S. mainland since record keeping began in 1895.

"Many parts of the country enjoyed a winter season that kept children in flip-flops instead of snow boots," Henriksen explains. "One of the consequences of the unseasonable winter temperatures is that it caused an early emergence of numerous species of bugs."

Insects are cold blooded, she says, so "they look to cues from Mother Nature to direct their biological functions. While calendars may have said February, mercury readings said June and accordingly, many insects arose from their over-wintering state weeks — and in some cases months — earlier because of the warm weather."

She says termites, mosquitoes, ants, ticks and fleas were all out in force ahead of schedule.

Henriksen didn't mention worms — perhaps they were gotten by early birds.

Fast Track To ... Failure?

Early birds, however, will not be encouraged this time around to line up at midnight for the release of the LeBron X or other new Nike sneakers. The Wall Street Journal and others report that Nike has put an end to that popular practice because of security concerns.

But prospective college students, like the ninth-grader mentioned in this New York Times piece from earlier this year, are looking at possibilities at a younger age. And in turn, SB Nation reports, colleges are looking at young people earlier. The Times also reports a notable rise among some universities in early admission applications.

"Better three hours too soon than a minute too late," William Shakespeare wrote in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Leave it to Shakespeare to point out a virtue of earliness

Early Americans bought into this reverence for earliness. "Early to bed and early to rise," Ben Franklin famously claimed, "makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."

Later Americans also embraced earliness. Tycoon J. Paul Getty is reported to have put his formula for success in six words: "Rise early, work hard, strike oil."

And so we much-later Americans still feel in our national DNA a rush to earliness. We grow up earlier. Eat breakfast earlier. Get into college earlier. Go to work earlier. The quest for ever-earlier earliness is a lifelong pursuit.

There can be drawbacks. Sometimes it's just too soon for a bird to fly. Or it's premature to eat a persimmon. Or it's too early for a Major League pitcher to pitch a full season. Never serve a wine before its time and all that.

Eagerness for earliness can lead to failure — in a hurry.

Leave it to Shakespeare again to point out a fallacy of earliness. In some instances, it can be just another shade of lateness. "I am glad I was up so late, for that's the reason I was up so early." Shakespeare wrote in Cymbeline.

That, of course, was one of his late plays.

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Linton Weeks joined NPR in the summer of 2008, as its national correspondent for Digital News. He immediately hit the campaign trail, covering the Democratic and Republican National Conventions; fact-checking the debates; and exploring the candidates, the issues and the electorate.