Earth copes with a calamity – and its name is us


Well, this last weekend showed that global warming is a socialist hoax, right? I mean, it was cold. And snowy. Really snowy.

That’s nonsense, of course.

Sadly, though, legislatures around this great land of ours contain significant percentages of elected members who would nod their heads at my first sentence.

Turns out, the phrase “global warming” was one of the bigger branding mistakes in this planet’s history. Try as the science-minded might to rebrand the concept as “climate change,” they find it tough sledding, pun intended. The deniers are having too much fun poking holes in their “global warming” straw men.

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Here’s the story the data tell: Human activity is contributing to a warming trend in the atmosphere of the earth – our fragile island home, as a prayer used by my church calls it. Whether we’re the prime or only a secondary contributor to this trend is really besides the point – even though that questions causes huge volumes of words to get spilled.

The point is: Can we limit the impetus we give to a trend that in the short run will cause wrenching hardship, and in the long run could wipe us out?

Now, the weather is simply too complex and volatile a system for anyone to predict with confidence exactly how this all will play out. Scientists, technologists and economists are having a rousing debate about which corrective steps make sense now, and which should be delayed to allow time for technological fixes to ripen or impacts to become clearer.

This debate, while lively, is several decades behind schedule, a point driven home by a recent New Yorker piece. In it, writer Elizabeth Kolbert reviews how science came to believe that cataclysmic events must account for some of the ruptures seen in the fossil record, such as the disappearance of the dinosaurs. What’s more, Kolbert reports,  some scientists believe we are living in the midst of another such cataclysmic period.

The name of the cataclysm is us.

Here’s Kolbert: “Humans are radically refashioning the planet – leveling so many forests, eliminating so many creatures that once occupied those forests … and burning through such a vast quantity of fossil fuels to keep the whole enterprise going – that we could be producing a comparable catastrophe.”

Read that, and most of our arguments over climate change seem indescribably dim-witted.

I can just see paleontologists of some unimaginable future eon studying the fossil record of us, shaking their heads and saying, “Good Lord, these humans sure were dumb.”

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