America has weathered two world wars, smallpox epidemics, a Civil War, the Great Depression and hip-hop. A catastrophe dwarfing all those above clouds the horizon without a hint of alarm from the president or those who would be president.
Global warming threatens the extinction of polar bears. As deserts crawl across the tropics, drought hits us in the breadbasket, malaria and other tropical diseases press north along with fire ants and killer bees.
So, what’s the buzz among those who lead the free world? Mitt Romney’s income tax and Newt Gingrich’s ex-wives.
Fifty years from now, when sagebrush, prickly pear cactus and greasewood take over the corn fields of Iowa and the displace Kansas’ amber waves of grain, will Americans still debate Mitt and Newt’s family values?
In the year 2062, when islands wink out of existence one by one and rising seas have drowned Miami, New York and San Francisco, will scholars pontificate on President Barrack Obama’s jobs program?
Global warming denial fit George Bush’s pistol but has been ground to dust by reports from the U.S. Defense and State Departments.
These guys are girding up for mass migrations of starving millions flooding more prosperous nations, throwing farming, shipping and energy production in chaos.
And wars, oh my! World War II won’t be a relatively regional affair but a true global conflict. Paraguay fighting Uruguay, South Beckistan invading North Bekistan, the Welsh throwing down on the Irish, one Dakota threatening the other.
The growing army of scientists who declare global warming a reality have thinned the herd of deniers to those who reckon: “Sure. The world is warming a bit … in places. But it’s not caused by human activity, it’s all part of natural cycle that has been cycling for 5,000 years (the true age of the earth in some circles).
Most of us mastered this plea as schoolchildren. The original version reads: “It was already on fire when I picked it up.”
This response to the global threat has softened to: “I didn’t cause it. Don’t tax me to fix it.”
The solution to the problem is simple – neither cheap nor easy, but simple. If the industrial world would stop burning fossil fuel and follow China’s example in limiting families to a single child, everything would be right as rain.
Many nations, perhaps most, can’t raise the cash needed to join the battle. At the other extreme, some nations are too oil rich to participate.
Imagine Saudi Arabia shutting down its oil patch for the benefit of energy hogs like the United States. Imagine North Dakota shutting down the Bakken and telling 20,000 workers to go home.
Even more interesting is the case of one of our old enemies one of our closest friends: Russia and Canada. Here are two countries that may benefit from global warming.
Both could enjoy soaring increases in food crops.
Timber harvests would also increase as trees invade treeless tundra.
Chunks of both countries that are hardly habitable today would become hospitable.
The corn belt might drift north of the U.S.-Canadian border.
Ski resorts in the United States will fold as quickly as new ones are opened in Canada.
Analysts predict a doubling of tourism in Russia and Canada in this century. The shrinkage of polar ice fields will open the Northwest passage to Canadian shipping and under sea oil fields to Russia.
Meanwhile, food production will plummet in most countries. The leaders of starving people will become increasingly irritable. War will become more frequent and nuclear war less unthinkable. (Consider the case of Pakistan and India.)
According to a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, our species has until 2007 to avoid the crucial tipping point that could lead to runaway global warming.
The bad news is: even with the U.S. finally taking climate change seriously, the world cannot possibly meet the deadlines outlined in the report.
The good news is: There is a way out. “We can cheat,” says author and international affairs analyst Gwynne Dyer. “We can buy time until we get carbon emissions under control.” That means “geo-engineering” schemes that would temporarily slow the warming of the Earth.
Dyer cites a proposal to put sulfur dioxide high into the atmosphere to reduce the amount of sunlight that gets into the Earth’s atmosphere and thereby mimic the effects of volcanic ash spewed into the air.
Or maybe we could just cross our fingers and hope for actual volcanoes to erupt and save us the time and expense.