Thursday, July 19, 2012

Witness to the Procrastination

"Here’s what American exceptionalism means now: on a per-capita basis, we either lead or come close to leading the world in consumption of resources, production of pollutants and a profound unwillingness to do anything about it. We may look back upon this year as the one in which climate change began to wreak serious havoc, yet we hear almost no conversation about changing policy or behavior."

So begins an online opinion column by Mark Bittman of the New York Times.  Yes, and that exceptionalism has been quantified: again this year, Americans ranked last in the world in sustainable behavior, and they don't appear to be upset about it.

Meanwhile, new heat waves are embroiling the Midwest, teasing the East Coast and contributing to drought in many areas.  The impacts are starting to mount up.  Heat and drought is threatening the Midwest corn crop, with ripple effects through the food chain.  Even grass-fed cattle in Oregon are being deprived of their feed by fire.  And the heat has helped lower water levels in the Mississippi river, which is making barge shipping more difficult--thus a major threat to commerce-- and may be allowing pollution of the drinking water in New Orleans with seawater.

And oh yeah, another huge iceberg the size of Manhattan has broken off from a Greenland glacier and is sailing out to sea.

But it's what's happening in the U.S., and our national non-reaction to it so far, that is most remarkable.  Writes Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker:

"One of the most salient—but also, unfortunately, most counterintuitive—aspects of global warming is that it operates on what amounts to a time delay. Behind this summer’s heat are greenhouse gases emitted decades ago. Before many effects of today’s emissions are felt, it will be time for the Summer Olympics of 2048. (Scientists refer to this as the “commitment to warming.”) What’s at stake is where things go from there. It is quite possible that by the end of the century we could, without even really trying, engineer the return of the sort of climate that hasn’t been seen on earth since the Eocene, some fifty million years ago.

Along with the heat and the drought and the super derecho, the country this summer is also enduring a Presidential campaign. So far, the words “climate change” have barely been uttered. This is not an oversight. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have chosen to remain silent on the issue, presumably because they see it as just too big a bummer.

And so, while farmers wait for rain and this season’s corn crop withers on the stalk, the familiar disconnect continues. There’s no discussion of what could be done to avert the worst effects of climate change, even as the insanity of doing nothing becomes increasingly obvious."

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