WHETHER REPORT

5 09 2006

Now it’s time for the whether report, when we look at whether we are going to continue to have a planet capable of supporting human life. The indicators are not good. Scientists have recently excavated ice cores from Antarctica that date back eight hundred thousand years, and—guess what? There’s more carbon dioxide in the air now than there has been at any time in the last eight hundred thousand years! We’re number one!

Eight hundred thousand years ago, our prehuman ancestors were just getting the hang of controlling fire.

The study also revealed that the amount of carbon dioxide that has been added to the atmosphere in the last seventeen years is unparalleled. There is 30 ppm more CO2 in the atmosphere than there was in 1990. Typically, it has taken a thousand years for a 30 ppm fluctuation to occur. That is probably why current planetary temperatures aren’t quite the warmest in 800,000 years—it will take the planet a little while to catch up. Meanwhile, the increasing heat is freeing methane and CO2 from thawing arctic tundra at a faster rate than calculated just a few months ago. The weather along the north Pacific coast is getting too warm for the native tree species, and massive forest dieoffs are starting to occur.

This year’s hurricane season has so far not been too intense, unless you live in Baja California, which got its first hurricane ever. I’m grateful the folks on our south coast have gotten a little breathing room, but I hope they don’t let it go to their heads. Time is not on their side.

Dr. James Hansen, in Federal Court testimony, has sworn that we must act decisively in the next ten years if we are going to avoid catastrophic climate change—as if what’s going on already isn’t catastrophic enough. If we continue at the rate we’re going, he predicts a 50-100 foot rise in sea level over the next century or two, displacing hundreds of millions of people. Even if we succeed in slamming the brakes on, we’re still going to lose some coastline.

Two experts from City College of New York’s Clean Fuels Institute estimate the cost of stopping global warming in the U.S. at 200 billion dollars a year. Gee, too bad that between Bush’s tax cuts for the rich—which, gosh, amount to about 200 billion a year–and the Iraq war, which costs upwards of 70 billion a year, we can’t afford it. So that’s what they mean by pre-emptive war. It pre-empts our ability to do what we really need to do to save our asses.

So—enjoy the simple pleasures of your life—the trees, birds, beaches, mountains, streams, flowers, children, old people, hot water, good food, your friends and your ability to visit with them—feel the poignancy, the transitoriness, of it all—because it’s poised to change far beyond our capacity to imagine, and possibly beyond our capacity to adapt. Maybe we can prevent catastrophe. Maybe. Maybe.

music: The Persuasions, “Ship of Fools”

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