Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Black Hole of Climate Change

While drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has been taken off the table (for now), Senator Ted Stevens, who was the mover and shaker behind the plan, is praying for a really cold winter in hopes that it will motivate people to support his drilling plan.

But perhaps people are starting to connect the dots, not just in the need to protect the calving grounds of caribou, but between cheap oil and gas and issues like melting of much of the world's permafrost by 2100 or the fate of polar bears as sea ice melts, i.e.- what used to be called "global warming" but now falls under the rubric of "climate change."

Mainstream media doesn't often help in connecting these dots since the calculus of how far polar bears can swim and what might happen a century from now is beyond what the churn of the news cycle can deal with....even if they took the issue seriously. But when Evangelicals and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger agree with climate experts in saying "the debate is over," that the dots linking humans activities to impacts on the climate and Earth system do in fact connect, it seems to make the choice very stark: Cheap gas or polar bears? Cheap gas or sinkholes, ruined roads and pipelines, rising sea levels, massive shifts in habitats, etc.? (Gee, it's such a hard choice!)

But, naturally, it's not that simple or black and white. In fact, even if gas in the US cost $5 or $10 a gallon forcing conservation and cut-backs in consumption, and even if overnight the planet stablized fossil fuel emmissions, we'd still be facing melting sea ice and permafrost, polar bears tredding water for their dear lives. But what to do, especially those of us who have yet to ween ourselves from cheap gas? In other words, us.

For starters, how about an honest discussion about where we're at, where we're heading, how we got here, and what needs to be done so our children don't inherit a proverbial black hole.....Or, given the fact that some change is inevitable and irreversible, at the very least, let's give them the tools and wherewithal so they have a clue of what to do with the black hole they do inherit.

Photo courtesy Vladimir Romanovsky, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks

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