The coldest winter, the war and global warming


It is a cold winter, indeed. In North America, a long sustained cold just prior to a potentially volatile, over-heated, international confrontation. As many innocent people brace themselves to feel with their blood the rain of smart bombs, the Earth herself shakes violently. A major earthquake in Mexico, belly of the continent, augurs in a tempestuous era.

There are myriad opinions about the looming war. We repeat ourselves. The war between Christianity and Islam has gone on for five centuries. It runs both hot and cold. Israel, which has its place, also draws the ire of many. The U.S. - with no small Christian fervor - is all over the rest of the Islamic world. War, violent death, hell and damnation was Bin Laden's precise prescription for destroying the West. He had, and perhaps has, fiendishly good instincts. Saddam Hussein, who is a dullard by comparison and loves his many palaces, gets the smart bomb, which is certain to swell Bin Laden's ranks in the pain of the mayhem. The West has the smart bombs, evidently, but still moves forward with a precarious strategy. The question yet unanswered is whether this war will increase or decrease the security of the American people?

A deeper struggle is already underway - the onslaught against the health of the Natural World brought on by modern industrial human activity. Ignorance, primed with a full dose of greed, more than anger and retribution, fuels that slow and steady conflict. The war against the Mother Earth is not consciously pursued. However, it is the direct result of wasteful, primitive, industrial systems that have not philosophically, ethically nor technologically understood the impacts of non-renewable economic activity on the Natural world. These systems have done little to project an appreciation for the complexities and vulnerabilities of Mother Earth.

The progressive heating of the Earth's atmosphere, what is called global warming, is the assault case in point. The intense cold weather of recent weeks has brought on a rash of commentary on the nature of the global-warming phenomenon. Suddenly it is commonplace to hear folks poking fun at the idea of global warming by pointing to the extreme cold that has blanketed much of North America. But this is also short sighted. Local or regional weather, even weather over a whole continent, has little relevance to the syndrome of global warming. Weather is a state of the atmosphere at a particular place and time. It affects our everyday lives. We describe weather in a variety of ways: humid, cold, sunny, wet, partly cloudy, etc. But what happens in local weather may or may not be an indicator of global impacts. On the other hand, global warming is a diagnostic indicator of climate change. And this is the nugget to keep in mind. Climate change is the proper focus, not simply global warming.

Science is only beginning to explore all the likely impacts of atmospheric warming on major climactic systems throughout the world. But we are already hearing from northern Native and scientific voices how the artificial warming of the Earth is altering rainfall patterns, causing changes in animal behavior, plant growth and migrations. A warmer Earth affects the global water cycle, speeding up evaporation and the exchange of water among the oceans, atmosphere and land, all of which will hasten polar ice-pack melt and increase the frequency and multiply the destructive strength of tropical storms to the south. Quickly frozen over-evaporation, given the extreme temperatures of severe weather, can give way to a cold age. More immediately, the industrial warming of the Earth means an increase in environmental mega-disasters - long-term droughts, huge fires that blacken whole states (Montana, Florida, 2001), tropical storms that devastate whole countries (Hurricane Mitch, Honduras, 1998).

Global warming is a real concern; the Earth's temperature is rising. The most obvious cause is the pollution caused by the increased burning of fossil fuels for industrial, societal needs. This basic tenet is near to completing scientific consensus. Even President Bush's White House, stepping beyond the wall of ideological denial from its right wing base (i.e. Rush Limbaugh, et. al.) has accepted this widely accepted scientific agreement. We know that the Earth's mean temperature rose by a full degree in the past century, and that this is linked to the fact that carbon dioxide concentrations have increased from 280 to 370 parts per million over the same period. The decade of the 90s was the warmest on record and now 2002 appears to have been the second warmest year ever, according to the World Meteorological Organization. The Arctic ice cap is melting at unprecedented rates; present projections put its total melting at around 2025.

Correspondingly, since 1850, the Alpine glaciers of Europe have lost half their volume, and according to the U.S. government, glaciers in Montana's Glacier National Park will cease to exist by 2030. The new reality represented by these examples is that global warming is beginning to influence and change whole patterns of climate. The indicated dangers, if something serious and dedicated is not done now, are immense and likely irreversible.

Nations will make war on nations and men will kill other men, along with many, many innocents. This has gone on forever and the present looming clash with Iraq continues the tradition. Shades of the long-term conflict between Christianity and Islam envelop its logic.

War is war, and its impacts have consequences. The promise of this war on Iraq is that it will be short and certain. There is no such promise in the war with Mother Earth represented by global pollution and fossil fuel burning that is causing the warming of the atmosphere. While President Bush's White House has cast aside the drastic reality of this natural conflict, while emphasizing a human conflict in which the spoils include a region rich with fossil fuels, we are concerned for its detrimental impacts for our seventh generation. The heat of the impending war with Iraq - with its intended objectives and unforeseen consequences - may in fact even influence the heat of Mother Earth, and affect our intrinsically tied fates.