Friday, August 26, 2011

The dinosaurs didnít notice either

Scientists, those folks whose world is reality-based, report that Arctic ice is melting fast. It's melting faster, in fact, than they had previously thought.

Climate change—the more accurate name for global warming—may be about to take a disturbing turn.

Nature is quite capable of capricious climate movements all on its own. We see this kind of movement every few years with the arrival of El Niño or La Niña ocean currents. We humans can mostly adapt to change on this scale.

According to a 2010 survey from the National Academy of Sciences, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are changing the climate. But there's change, and then there's change.

For example, humans built the giant Three Gorges Dam in China without knowing exactly what climate effects it might produce. Still, humans can either adapt to those effects or take the dam down and reverse them.

Then there's the prospect of all the ice in the Arctic melting, once and for all. Although we cannot absolutely measure human impact on the climate and may not be sure of all the consequences of burning fossil fuels or clear-cutting rain forests, we can be certain that disappearing Arctic ice is an event both massive and irreversible.

It's the irreversible part of disappearing Arctic ice that's terrifying.

When a 100-year-old lobster dies, another could take its place in two human generations. When an ancient cedar is cut down, another could tower toward the sky in about two millennia. Somewhere in time, we can imagine another lobster, another giant tree.

The ice cap, however, was built over a period of millions of years. In less than a century, the ice will be gone. What has been there for as long a time as humans can comprehend as the concept of "long" will just not be there anymore. All the life that humans can even imagine has been in relation to that Arctic ice being there. Soon, if something doesn't change, it won't be, and there is absolutely nothing that will put that ice back again.

Maybe we humans can invent something that will replace the ice. Maybe our technology will save us.

Or, maybe, the changes will be irreversible and we won't be able to adapt in time. Maybe, like the dinosaurs, we just won't be able to get out of the way.

Or, maybe, because we do see it coming, we should stop pretending that it's not our fault and begin to change behaviors that contribute to climate change.

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