Friday, April 22, 2005

As the Glacier Melts

Spring has sprung and a young man’s thoughts turn to global warming.

Some of us watch the weather every day, and most of us keep pretty tight rein on the microclimate inside our homes. Others among us are content to know that the Sun will rise tomorrow, and pay attention to little else.

Some few, scientists mostly, look beyond their four walls, or region, and look at global weather patterns. A select few of those scientists study climate change over the long term, and they are pretty much of the consensus that mankind is causing the rise in global temperatures that they are documenting all over the planet.

A few of those scientists maintain a great weblog,, that reports their findings and concerns in language that lay people and journalists can understand. I think you should bookmark the site and check it frequently.

Today at that website there appears an article by scientist David Vaughn that treats glacial retreat on the Antarctic Penninsula. Vaughn and his colleagues assembled and compared data and aerial photographs of 244 marine glacier fronts over a period of 50 years and show that 87% of the region's glaciers have retreated. That research is presented in detail in the April 22, 2005 issue of Science, one of the world’s premier peer-reviewed scientific publications.

Now for my soapbox. Why is it, that in the face of mounting conclusory evidence that human activity has changed the climate, does the general population pooh-pooh what the scientists are telling us? If some astronomers showed us a picture of a giant asteroid that was on a collision course with Earth would the same Doubting Thomases ignore the evidence until they saw the giant rock obscure the sky over their state?

I think the answer to my question is complicated. A giant rock hitting the Earth would get everyone’s attention really fast. But faced with the world’s glaciers melting at the speed of, well, a glacier, folks will tend to ignore the evidence until the ocean starts lapping at the outskirts of their town 20 miles inland from the historical coastline. If one happens to live 40 miles inland, well, then, too bad for those folks who lived so close to the ocean. And some governments choose to wrangle over details rather than act, and that makes the problem worse while lulling the masses into some sense of security. Hey, tomorrow will be the same as today, so no problem, right? Honey, could you be quiet, they're talking about Paris Hilton on the boob-tube right now.

Folks, over 2 billion people worldwide live near a coastline - that's 37% of the world's population. Its safe to say that eventually everyone would be affected by a significant rise in sea levels brought on by global warming.

54% of Americans live in a coastal county. By 2025 approximately 75% of the American population will live near a coastline. So rising sea levels will affect a huge percentage of the population in this country. If just the Greenland ice sheet melted, sea levels would rise 22 feet.

It is alarming to note that responses to warnings from scientists that we’re messing things up on a global scale tend to become political footballs that few want to catch and run with. I'm sad to say it, but the current Administration in the United States seems intent on rolling back hard-won gains in environmental protection that would protect our air and water resources, and that would begin to address the global warming issue, at least in this country.

Its time to act, as individuals, and as a society, to get these important issues out of the hands of the politicians where they will languish and into the habits and practices of our daily lives. That is why I try to do many little things within my sphere of influence to leave as small a footprint on this precious earth as possible. I want my posterity to inherit a legacy worth living in, and you should too.

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