Thursday, July 13, 2006
The lawns of Antarctica
My legally conjoined significant other Becky and I finally got around to seeing An Inconvenient Truth before I went off to the desert, and it ain’t bad. If you, like me, have been telling yourself you don’t need to see it because you know all that stuff already, go see it anyway. I do climate for a living, more or less, and I got a few important things out of it.
One of those things is that Al Gore is as tempting a subject for hagiography as any living American politician. Watching the movie, I was tempted to forget the former Vice President’s betrayal of the families in East Liverpool, Ohio whom Gore had promised to protect from a hazardous waste incinerator, a promise broken not long after the inauguration in 1993. Or the Clinton administration’s rollover on Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards in that same year, which certainly put us further behind the climate goals spelled out in the movie. Or that administration’s unnecessarily generous subsequent compromise with the timber industry over old-growth logging, Option Nine, which helped speed the degradation of forests that could have been sequestering carbon. And there’s always the example of Gore benefiting his family oil stock portfolio by pushing the sale of oil drilling rights on sacred land.
Vice Presidents in the pre-Cheney era used to be considered relatively powerless, so it might be unfair to lay all the Clinton administration’s environmental gaffes at Gore’s feet. Still, it’s possible that a fair accounting might assign Gore responsibility for a significant amount of governmentally driven damage to the Earth’s climate. Perhaps even as much as a hundredth that done by the Bush administration from 2001-2004. An honest documentary would have at least mentioned those gaffes.
But hell, it’s a campaign movie first and foremost, campaigning both to get people to wake up to the danger climate change poses (and the spuriousness of the manufactured controversy over what is, increasingly, unanimous scientific thinking) and to put pressure on the Bush administration as well. And it’s a damn good campaign movie. As an environmental journalist, I spent eight years of Clinton and Gore seething at Al, and I’d vote for him in a heartbeat so that I could seethe at him again. It would be so much nicer than my current seething arrangement.
Incidentally, we saw the movie in one of those theatres that shows commercials before the feature. There were two commercials shown before our screening. The first was an ad for Chevron. The second was an ad for General Motors. There was a little hissing.
All this came to mind again today during my daily reading of The Mercury, one of Hobart Tasmania’s finest mainstream news sources. There’s a conference of Antarctic researchers taking place right now in Hobart, it turns out, and in his keynote address to that conference, Stanford’s Robert Dunbar predicted that trees will be growing in Antarctica by the end of this century, as a result of CO2 levels rising faster than any scientists had anticipated. From The Mercury:
“The official estimate is that carbon dioxide levels will double by 2100, but it’s looking like getting there faster and then tripling,” Prof. Dunbar said.
“It’s from the burning of fossil fuels, from the production of cement and deforestation. Hopefully we will have come to our senses by then.
“To see a time when CO2 was triple, you’d have to go back 30 to 40 million years, there was no big ice sheet and there would have been trees and grasslands. Already on the Antarctic peninsula there are a lot of invasive plant species, and that’s not just because they’re being tramped in by tourists.”
The sudden temperature rises had prompted the sudden appearance of grass.
I’d heard the trees prediction before, though never uttered in such a formal setting. But grass is growing in Antarctica now? You could knock me over with a drowning polar bear.
I offer that to you as a rhetorical tool in your next conversation with someone who thinks the whole climate issue is overblown. Grass is growing in Antarctica.
On this subject, Tom Athanasiou and Paul Baer have for some years been doing a bit of wonderful wonk work pointing out the conjunction between climate protection and global social justice. Their website, EcoEquity, is a top-notch resource for anyone who’d like to learn a bit more about climate and global politics. Check ‘em out.
In the meantime, I’m working on a list and could use your help. After we elect Gore — or whoever — and indict the Bush administration for climate crimes, we’re going to need a list of poetically Sisyphean (and non-violent) community service assignments for the convicted. I’ve already got Bush clearing brush at the South Pole, but I need some more. Chertoff bailing out the Bengali coast with a gasoline can? Naw: lacks cachet. And Cheney and Rove have got me stumped. Help me out.