THIN ICE

6 01 2006

As I said, scientists studying the glaciation of the Himalayan Mountain chain think it quite possible that permanent snow cover on the Himalayas will be a thing of the past in just another thirty years, if things continue at their current rate—and the thing about climate change seems to be that it is not continuing at its current rate, it’s speeding up. Studies of air bubbles trapped in 650,000 year old Antarctic ice reveal that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now is higher than it’s been in that entire timespan, and scientists think that the only reason temperatures aren’t already higher than they’ve been in 650,000 years is because this rise has happened so fast that the climate hasn’t had time to catch up yet. “Climate and carbon dioxide are like two people who are handcuffed together,” one scientist explained. “Where one goes, the other has to follow.”

This is not good news for the billions of Indians, Chinese, and other southeast Asians who depend on the glacier-fed rivers of southeast Asia for water. Many of these people live near the ocean, and it will be even worse for them, because the Himalayan glacial complex is the third largest ice mass on the planet (behind Greenland and Antarctica) and when it melts the oceans will rise a foot and a half or so, making life more difficult for shore-dwellers from Bangladesh to New Jersey. You don’t often think of it, but the topography and population distribution in New Jersey make it almost as vulnerable a storm target as New Orleans.

And the storms are cranking up. We have just had tropical storm Zeta, which churned up the eastern Atlantic ocean over New Year’s and tied the record for the latest tropical storm on record, while back in October Hurricane Vince became the first hurricane to make landfall in Spain, and in December we had Hurricane Epsilon, only the fifth hurricane ever reported that late in the season. Zeta was the 27th named storm this year, beating out the old record by 4 storms, and Epsilon was the fourteenth hurricane, beating out the old record by two. Oh, I forgot to mention the good news from the Himalayan study—it looks like maybe fluctuations in the Gulf Stream don’t have as much of an effect on climate as was previously thought. But there’s lots of other factors hard at work to change the climate.

The Bush administration is dragging its heels on admitting there is a problem here not, I believe, because they don’t think there’s a problem, but because if they admit there’s a problem, then they’ll have to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. As long as they don’t admit there’s a problem, they can quietly protect themselves from impending calamity, but they are under no obligation to do anything to help out the rest of us, which after all would divert resources away from protecting their own precious asses. So that’s why the emperor is wearing a beautiful suit of clothes, and the sky is not falling.

music: Mike Scott and the Waterboys, “Dumbing Down the World”








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