The Climes They Are A-Changin'

The Indisputable Science of Global Warming

Recent data obtained from the tens of thousands of monitoring buoys networked across the world's oceans have underscored the critical role played by a phenomenon known as the Thermohaline Circulation—a massive conveyor belt of heated water carried from the tropics to the northern latitudes via the currents of the Atlantic Ocean. Some researchers believe that this current system may be the trigger that initiates the cycles of glaciation, the ice age trigger. Certain evidence suggests that this circulation may be extremely sensitive to changes, shutting down in response to minor pressures. Other evidence suggests that the thermohaline may be disrupted by the formation of a large lens of freshwater sitting atop the saline waters of the oceans around Greenland and Iceland. Such a lens is currently forming in the North Atlantic as a result of the melting of glaciers and ice sheets in the north. There is no way of currently knowing or predicting what may come next.

However, given the consensus for action on climate change expressed by the majority of the other industrialized nations, the U.S. will find itself in an increasingly difficult position as the lone holdout against responsible and progressive action on the climate problem. Already, international accord on the Kyoto Protocol in the absence of U.S. support signals a shift in the post-Cold War paradigm that has dominated the international political arena for a decade. The Kyoto agreement was formulated based on a fundamental tenet of democratic public law, the concept of the commons—property belonging in equal measure to all citizens for all time. Leadership on this issue must value the hard commitments required of democratic thinking, and not simply trot out the term to justify the current mania for saber rattling. Perhaps "superpower" status is no longer a given for any individual nation. Radical backlash against U.S. policy, or rather lack of policy, on the climate change problem can only be expected to grow as the symptomatic evidence grows, as the record-breaking storms unleash their fury, as the droughts consume the harvests of dozens of nations, as the rivers either flood beyond all parallel or run dry as a bone, as coastal regions lose their war against the encroaching sea. Not the stuff of science fiction. The stuff of Science.

And as all the proponents of action on these issues agree, the Kyoto Protocol is really nothing more than a symbolic gesture, a nod to the fact that future agreements will be required, that more extensive regulations will be established, and that the problem has only begun to be addressed. Responsible and mature leadership will be required to guide nations around the globe through the admittedly difficult adjustments that will be expected of each and every citizen, every local government office, and all levels of the federal government of each nation on Earth. Unfortunately, for an alarming number of Americans, the "environment" has been reduced to the strip of lawn and the manicured shrubs they pass on the way from the parking lot to their climate-controlled office buildings, or between their climate-controlled automobiles and their climate-controlled homes.

illustration: Peter Scanlan

A serious tremor in the accepted order of things would arise from the multinational imposition of economic sanctions against the U.S. for failure to comply with the regulatory regime to be established under Kyoto. The most obvious medicines for the problem, such as aggressive energy conservation and protection of forested regions, are direct threats to the de facto capitalist economic principle of infinite economic growth to meet ever increasing demand in a world of infinite space and resources. Humanity, as a species, has reached a time in its evolution when it must begin to consider its own limits—beyond race, beyond economic politics, beyond any form of enlightened thinking of the past. The Bush administration is right on one thing: Adaptation is the only answer to these new realities. Rigid ways of thinking, old ways of thinking, no longer apply. A new paradigm is needed, at the very root of the culture. Those who fail to bend will be broken. The science of the matter will see to that.

Also in This Issue:

"The Hazardous Roads to Yucca Mountain" by Teal Krech

"How Big Business Feeds You Poison" by Lenora Todaro

« Previous Page