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Dec 20th
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Here Comes the Sun

HP walk-3…. and all is not right

Just a few days after the official start of summer, while much of the nation sweltered under a heat wave, the House narrowly passed what was largely regarded as a “landmark” climate change bill. The Waxman-Markey Bill, which would limit carbon dioxide pollution and require the use of renewable energy is due to take effect two and a half years from now—despite what would seem an existential urgency for all humankind in the most dire terms possible.

With their heads in the sand and their sunburned asses in the air, 212 congressmen voted against the bill including 44 Democrats. (Only eight Republican members of the House voted for the bill, but let’s applaud their bravery.) Yet for most climate scientists, the bill is an utterly, undeniably watered down version of what needs to be done—about as effective as fighting a forest fire with a wet towel—and will do little to halt what we are doing to the planet. Nonetheless, it is a start.

Sitting outside in Big Pine near the melt waters of the Palisade Glacier, the Sierra Nevada’s biggest piece of ice, I read the transcripts from the House decision on the Internet. While I read the arguments coming from the floor of the House, I pondered my split second of geologic time on this earth sandwiched between a thin crust separating me from the hot magma below and the thin, delicate atmosphere protecting me from the coldness of space, the searing atomic rays of the sun. I also mused how much the Palisade Glacier has shrunk since first walking on it twenty years ago. At the rate it’s going I’ll be lucky to depart this earth with a shred of ice left.

One thing, though, about the climate change debate stood out loud and clear. Representative Paul Broun of Georgia stated that climate change is nothing but a “hoax perpetrated out of the scientific community.” His remarks were met with a loud applause. This, coming from a state whose capital city gets the not-so-flattering moniker “Hotlanta.” Well, Mr. Broun and others, wait till your Southern climate is more like Panama without the ocean influence. It will come far sooner than you think if MIT scientists are correct in surmising that Illinois will be more like East Texas, New Hampshire like South Carolina. The climate is rapidly sliding south.

Despite the overwhelming consensus among the climate science community that humans have, and are, contributing to climate change, the impulse within the media, within our elected officials, within ourselves even, is to find an ever-dwindling fringe voice of global warming skeptics, or contrarians. The truth, to put it simply, is too much to take—even though we know that many of these climate contrarians are funded directly or indirectly by the oil industry and other carbon-based industries.

But you don’t even need the world’s top climatologists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who have been issuing dire warnings that life on earth is being adversely affected by warming for years now, to understand the reality of the situation. Just step outside to witness the rapid melting of glaciers and polar ice caps, small islands being swallowed by rising seas, or the fact that the last nine out of 10 years were the hottest on record since 1860. The harbingers are here and they are way scary.

We need to realize sooner rather than later that the threat from terrorism is nothing in comparison to the global terror of a warming planet. That the real Jihad doesn’t issue forth from a Madrassa or training camp in Pakistan but from a coal-fired smokestack, from the rear of our cars, from our way of life. And by this implication we are all terrorists on a suicide mission, carbon strapped to our bodies like bombs.

James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified in 1988 before congress that he was 99 percent sure that human-induced global climate change was happening. Since then his language and urgency have matched the threats caused by dangerous carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. (If Hansen’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he is the same scientist who made headlines after he accused the Bush Administration of suppressing scientific research on global warming. “It seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States,” he said, regarding the muzzling he has received by his government employer.)

Hansen more recently called on chief fossil fuel executives to be “put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature.” He also called (in a recent New Yorker article) freight trains carrying coal, “death trains.” Our language and consciousness addressing the problem must change too, in accordance with the problem. If we don’t, the next generation will look back on this critical time in our planet’s history and see the Sen. Broun’s, the ExxonMobiles, the Hummer owners, all those who stood by and did nothing, in the same way we look back at Nazi war criminals.

Maybe if the language of global warming were as precise and hardboiled as the facts, we would be more apt to act. Maybe it would be more difficult to create a false sense of security, a protective barrier between the overwhelming scientific evidence and our need to be sheltered from such a dire predicament. There’s simply too much at stake to be in denial. And to those that voted against the climate change bill, applaud yourselves. Each clap is the thunder of global terrorism writ large on our very survival, our precious lives.

With their heads in the sand and their sunburned asses in the air, 212 congressmen voted against the bill including 44 Democrats. (Only eight Republican members of the House voted for the bill, but let’s applaud their bravery.) Yet for most climate scientists, the bill is an utterly, undeniably watered down version of what needs to be done—about as effective as fighting a forest fire with a wet towel—and will do little to halt what we are doing to the planet. Nonetheless, it is a start.

Sitting outside in Big Pine near the melt waters of the Palisade Glacier, the Sierra Nevada’s biggest piece of ice, I read the transcripts from the House decision on the Internet. While I read the arguments coming from the floor of the House, I pondered my split second of geologic time on this earth sandwiched between a thin crust separating me from the hot magma below and the thin, delicate atmosphere protecting me from the coldness of space, the searing atomic rays of the sun. I also mused how much the Palisade Glacier has shrunk since first walking on it twenty years ago. At the rate it’s going I’ll be lucky to depart this earth with a shred of ice left.

One thing, though, about the climate change debate stood out loud and clear. Representative Paul Broun of Georgia stated that climate change is nothing but a “hoax perpetrated out of the scientific community.” His remarks were met with a loud applause. This, coming from a state whose capital city gets the not-so-flattering moniker “Hotlanta.” Well, Mr. Broun and others, wait till your Southern climate is more like Panama without the ocean influence. It will come far sooner than you think if MIT scientists are correct in surmising that Illinois will be more like East Texas, New Hampshire like South Carolina. The climate is rapidly sliding south.

Despite the overwhelming consensus among the climate science community that humans have, and are, contributing to climate change, the impulse within the media, within our elected officials, within ourselves even, is to find an ever-dwindling fringe voice of global warming skeptics, or contrarians. The truth, to put it simply, is too much to take—even though we know that many of these climate contrarians are funded directly or indirectly by the oil industry and other carbon-based industries.

But you don’t even need the world’s top climatologists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who have been issuing dire warnings that life on earth is being adversely affected by warming for years now, to understand the reality of the situation. Just step outside to witness the rapid melting of glaciers and polar ice caps, small islands being swallowed by rising seas, or the fact that the last nine out of 10 years were the hottest on record since 1860. The harbingers are here and they are way scary.

We need to realize sooner rather than later that the threat from terrorism is nothing in comparison to the global terror of a warming planet. That the real Jihad doesn’t issue forth from a Madrassa or training camp in Pakistan but from a coal-fired smokestack, from the rear of our cars, from our way of life. And by this implication we are all terrorists on a suicide mission, carbon strapped to our bodies like bombs.

James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified in 1988 before congress that he was 99 percent sure that human-induced global climate change was happening. Since then his language and urgency have matched the threats caused by dangerous carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. (If Hansen’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he is the same scientist who made headlines after he accused the Bush Administration of suppressing scientific research on global warming. “It seems more like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than the United States,” he said, regarding the muzzling he has received by his government employer.)

Hansen more recently called on chief fossil fuel executives to be “put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature.” He also called (in a recent New Yorker article) freight trains carrying coal, “death trains.” Our language and consciousness addressing the problem must change too, in accordance with the problem. If we don’t, the next generation will look back on this critical time in our planet’s history and see the Sen. Broun’s, the ExxonMobiles, the Hummer owners, all those who stood by and did nothing, in the same way we look back at Nazi war criminals.

Maybe if the language of global warming were as precise and hardboiled as the facts, we would be more apt to act. Maybe it would be more difficult to create a false sense of security, a protective barrier between the overwhelming scientific evidence and our need to be sheltered from such a dire predicament. There’s simply too much at stake to be in denial. And to those that voted against the climate change bill, applaud yourselves. Each clap is the thunder of global terrorism writ large on our very survival, our precious lives.

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