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The Brooding Omnipresence of Global Warming


Four days in Italy and one thing was apparent to me from media coverage. In Europe, global warming is an enormous, worrisome issue. The threat of terrorism is faced by some European countries with much greater immediacy than the United States. Spain and the United Kingdom, for instance, both have a longer and arguably even more traumatic history of engagement with terrorism issues over the last thirty years than the United States. But across this region, global warming is being seen as a vast, potentially crippling problem. And there is widespread frustration over the Bush Administration’s attitude, which appears to waver between head-in-the-sand immobility and the embrace of a new Lysenkoism with ludicrous pseudo-scientific explanations like “dinosaur flatulence.” Mainstream media enable the Bushies in this venture to distract attention from one of our generation’s greatest challenges. A side-by-side comparison of major U.S. and European and East Asian newspapers over the last four days make this clear.

Take the recent confrontation over global warming measures at the G8. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pushed for clear limitations on hydrocarbon consumption; the new French president Sarkozy has jumped on the global warming bandwagon as well. With Blair on his way out and Abe under a cloud, these may be the closest leaders to Bush in the G8. Yes the U.S. has angrily rebuffed this initiative. This is, correctly, viewed as front-page above-the-fold news in Europe, and this Financial Times treatment is typical. But in the United States the struggle continues to identify the Paris-Hilton-story of the week.

If there’s an exception in the U.S. media these days, then it’s CNN’s Anderson Cooper. He’s been doing a series of reports from Greenland, whose topography is being dramatically transformed by the melting of the glacial ice that Viking explores sought to obscure by giving it a false name. Here’s a taste.

Today, it’s actually losing ice at about 100 billion tons a year. I mean, that’s incredible. One hundred billion tons of ice is disappearing. And, of course, it just doesn’t go up in smoke. The ice melts. Not only do you have to deal with water being lifted up, with the potential sea level going up virtually 20 feet, but also salinity. People aren’t thinking about this problem. What happens when a saltwater environment becomes more fresh lake?

Eight years ago, three U.S. cities were singled out as prospectively unsustainable in the view of rising waters: Houston, Miami and New Orleans. In a move of unprecedented brilliance, the Bush administration became the first in America’s history to actually lose a major city to the deluvian threat: New Orleans. And now how long until Houston and Miami suffer this fate? This seems an alarmist approach to a problem which should be studied and addressed with scientific detachment. But the key is engagement. America used to lead the world in addressing common problems. Now it is worse than a laggard. Under Bush, it has become a greedy, self-destructive force for foolishness.

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