Here in Montana the sun rises and sets a fiery red orb in the smoke-filled skies as it has for weeks on end. We inhale fine ash with every breath, some of which will stay lodged in our lungs for a long time to come, plaguing young and old alike. Our rivers are reduced to trickles, while triple-digit temperatures heat our lakes to temperatures that are lethal for coldwater fish. Unfortunately, the same thing is happening all over the world in one form or another. It’s time that those who so steadfastly refused to acknowledge global warming—and who fought so hard against measures to curtail it—find the courage to confess that environmentalists were right all along.
Heading the line to the confessional should be our Denier-in-Chief, George W. Bush. For seven long years now he has spurned efforts by any and all to bring our unconscionable consumption and pollution under control. He has ignored the work of thousands of credible scientists while his political lackeys edited government reports to remove references to the causes of global warming, the drastic consequences we are now experiencing, and our significant part in this worldwide tragedy of the commons that is poisoning our oceans, fouling our air and promising a severely compromised future for our children.
This is the environmental legacy of the Bush administration—or more accurately, the beginning of the legacy, since things are going to get a lot worse before they ever get better. But Bush didn’t do it by himself. He has been helped in the grand denial by corporations that put profits over all else, politicians of both parties who toady for the special interests of their home districts, and a compliant press that seems to accept that any measures that might have a negative economic impact on the polluting sectors of our society are simply out of the question.
Even now, with the evidence all around us, our Congress spews meaningless greenhouse gas reduction goals that are supposed to be met in 2020, or 2040, or some future date that, as the deadlines approach, will surely be pushed further out by political expediency, even as Earth turns to a cinder before our eyes. But, say the energy and automotive and investment lobbies, the goals must be “reasonable,” which basically means “business as usual” for as long as they can continue to externalize the impacts to all of humankind while pocketing the profits at levels that would make Mammon, the god of avarice and greed, blush with envy.
The problem is that business as usual is over with. Nothing about the environment is usual anymore. Just this week the World Meteorological Organization issued a report saying the extremes we are seeing in global weather are “becoming the norm across the planet.” In just the first few months of 2007, the Indian subcontinent has experienced twice the usual number of monsoons, global temperatures are the warmest since record-keeping began 125 years ago, and Britain and Europe are ravaged by record storms while Argentina and Uruguay fight devastating floods.
Nor does the evidence stop there. The massive dead zone of oxygen depleted ocean is back off the Oregon coast where, last year, it covered a 300-mile swath. And the Arctic, where Russia, Canada, Greenland and the United States are now waging a battle over who owns the seafloor and the minerals it holds, has lost 30 percent of its sea ice this year. Given the pace of global warming, scientists had estimated the Arctic could be ice-free in 40 years. But obviously, if we just lost 30 percent, we are going to trade the reflective ice-cover of the Arctic for the heat-absorbing open waters of the ocean a lot sooner than predicted.
Closer to home, wildfires are raging through massive swathes of forest that bark beetles and continuing drought have left dead or dying. Those who write the frequent letters to the editor denouncing environmentalists for trying to save our forests from rapacious corporate clearcuts ought to take the time to actually check out fire behavior in logged areas. The evidence shows that many fires burn more aggressively in logged-over areas than in native forests. Logging won’t save us—or stop forests with less moisture than kiln-dried lumber from burning.
The question now is whether our forests will actually grow back. If it seems incredible to even consider the possibility that they won’t, just think about how little moisture we have these days from snow and rain, and how much hotter it is than predictions made only a few years back. For a frightening example, look to last week’s report in Nature that summarizes more than two decades of research in the rainforests of Panama and Malaysia: “Global warming could cut the rate at which trees in tropical rainforests grow by as much as half.”
These are called “synergistic effects.” That means one event triggers another, which triggers another, and the impacts taken together are significantly greater than the sum of the individual events. The temperatures rise, the forests burn, their carbon dioxide is released to the atmosphere, adding to global warming effects, which create higher temperatures, magnify drought impacts, and stunt re-growth of the burned forests so they remove less carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. From there, the whole destructive cycle expands exponentially.
Unfortunately, this is no longer an arguable theory, it is a grim reality. We have trashed the world through the idiocy of denial, insatiable greed, endless wars and thoughtless plunder of our natural resources. Now would be a very good time for fools like President Bush and his corporate coterie to make their true confessions. Forgiveness is out of the question—but there may be some measure of redemption if they quit stonewalling and finally join the epic battle to save what’s left of our beautiful blue planet.
Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at email@example.com.