Thursday, 13 December 2012

Sandy, Overheating, and Frank Herbert's Whiskey

I suppose in the light of the death, disaster and loss of property that accompanied the recent super storm, we must face the reality that global warming may not be just a figment of your average tree-hugger’s imagination.

Not that the appropriately named Sandy was necessarily triggered by man-made causes, nonetheless it’s impossible to ignore that three of the ten highest floods in the Battery Park area over the last century have occurred in the last three years.

We are continually warned by politicians about the danger of handing over an unsupportable national debt to future generations, but what if we’re also passing on an unsupportable planet?

The mind boggles at the prospect, given that we may have already set events in motion that will be difficult to reverse. But stop them we must – either now at a very expensive price, or later when that cost and effort may be beyond both our pockets and capabilities.

“Balderdash!” You might say and you could be right; but what if you’re wrong? There was a time when I enjoyed reading Science Fiction and attended that genre’s various conventions. At one such affair I even “appropriated” a bottle of whiskey belonging to Frank Herbert, the writer of Dune, but that’s a story for another day.

While Dune is still a terrific read, there’s little to be gained in tackling most of this geeky literature since much of the fiction I enjoyed is fast becoming fact.

A painting from one of these long-ago conventions haunted me in the last weeks. It showed the island of Manhattan surrounded by large Gothic battlements built to withstand a swollen ocean caused by an overheated earth – a fantastical notion back then.

It reminded me that we seem to have lost the will – or the foresight - to confront only the most immediate of problems. But those of you who grew up in rural areas know that the land must be treated with respect; farmers inherently understand the wisdom of rotating crops and allowing arable fields to lie fallow every so often.

Our continuing reliance on oil and natural gas is madness. These resources are finite and will run out. Besides, we’re still essentially utilizing the same technology as Henry Ford with his Model T, still spewing the same gasoline fumes into the atmosphere and at the same ridiculously low mileage to the gallon.

President Obama boasts about upping these rates to 54.5 mpg by 2025. Did he ever hear of Europe? They’ve been getting this mpg on some cars ever since the Carter administration. In fact the US was on the fast track to similar rates back when bell-bottoms and disco were all the rage. What happened?

Well, we decided that the poor oil companies and auto-manufacturers needed time to update; then soon thereafter gas prices went through the floor, so who gave a damn anymore.

Thirty-five years later gas is expensive again and now we’re supposed to wait until 2025 for what Europe already has?

But it’s more than that - China and India want their shot at gluttonous excess, and self-righteous sermons from our politicians will likely fall on deaf ears.

Not to worry! We now have fracking - so drill baby drill, burn baby burn! What a break, just when oil reserves were beginning to show the inevitable signs of decline, we came up with a new technology to fracture shale and release the natural gas inside.

Great stuff! But in some areas fracking is affecting the water supply. We’re already damaging the very air we breathe with gas emissions; whatever we do, let us bequeath clean water to our descendants.

No one is even suggesting that we not utilize the vast new reserves of natural gas that have already brought prosperity to previously low income states like North Dakota, but easy does it when messing with the water supply.

If we gain only one thing from the aftermath of the Sandy tragedy, let it be that we become aware of the fragility of the world around us; let us be sure to hand over this beautiful planet to the next generation in at least the health it was handed to us.

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