Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Turkey a la King

updated, 7/26, 5:30 pm - forgot the link. Thanks to Mr. Ely, it's fixed.

It's nice to get Monday Morning Quarterback; it's not so nice to get this in the middle of it.

In my town, Montclair, N.J., we had a once-in-a-generation wind, hail and rain storm last week, uprooting 120-year-old oaks all over our neighborhood. One of those monsters crushed the car of the pitcher on the summer softball team I coach. A neighbor told me it was the worst weather event he's seen in 52 years in the town.

I'm terribly sorry about the pitcher's car; I'm glad she wasn't inside. But we quickly go from the parochial to the universal.

Wherever you are, have you noticed the weird weather patterns in the last few months? Unending, intense rain. High winds.

I'm not sure when Montclair, NJ, expanded to cover the entire eastern seaboard. As not-so-far-away as central Jersey, we had a lot of rain in June, but nothing at all like September 2000 when the Raritan flooded its banks and swamped many low-lying towns. I understand that the Delaware flooded instead, but just because we happen to be seeing once-in-a-lifetime flooding doesn't mean that we're going to see nothing but. And the weather may well be routine in many other towns.

It was in the midst of a 12th day of measurable rain in a 14-day period that I saw An Inconvenient Truth, the Al Gore movie about global warming. ...you should see this movie and judge the facts for yourself. What's happening out here is no isolated occurrence. It's going to keep happening and it's going to get worse. Facts are facts.

Based on the memories of one guy in one town, a crushed car, and two weeks of rain? An extended weather front over a ten-square mile patch of ground just isn't a statistically-valid sample size. I could pull isolated observations myself - when was the last time New Jersey got a hurricane, for example? This article seems to be pertinent as far as facts are concerned.

And we all need to do something about this phenomenon of the Earth heating up and the polar ice caps melting. This is not exactly the venue to warn the world about global warming, but all you football junkies readying for your fantasy drafts should do one real-world thing in the next couple of weeks: take two hours to see this movie. I'm not saying you'll be glad you did, because it's going to slap you around mentally a bit. But it's something you need to see. You don't want to wake up in 15 years with the Earth permanently damaged and huge portions of the Earth's surface under water, forever.

Aw, geez. You should have stopped at "not exactly the venue to warn the world," because it's the only thing in the section that's correct. Gregg Easterbrook gets away with stuff like this in his column because he doesn't go frolicing through the catnip when he says it. (Good news - he agrees with you.*) He's also a fellow at the Brookings Institution whose work runs regularly in much smarter magazines than SI. The rest of us? Not so successful.

Now, I hate to stand against two of my favorite football guys, one of whom I nearly met before chickening out. But I have some questions about all of this.

1. The Earth goes through regular periods of heating up and cooling back down. Most of it has been happening long before we got here, and seems outside of our control. The bits that are, we can do something about, but not because the Earth will pop like a hotdog in the microwave if we don't. It won't, and if that's the only reason for doing anything, then nothing will get done.

2. Evidence suggests that when the weather is warmer, many species do better and not worse.

3. Ted Danson gave essentially the same warning well over 15 years ago. (And he said that we only had ten years left to save the planet.) The Earth is pretty difficult to permanently damage. It used to get socked with meteorites regularly; it used to be a sopping tropical zone until it became a frozen hunk, only to become much more temperate again; mankind used to strip mine, clear cut, and dump chemicals everywhere - the Cuyahoga River once caught fire, for crying out loud. All the while, the Earth itself pours more pollutants into the air with a major volcanic event than humans do with all their refining and manufacture.

4. Most of the Earth's surface is already permanently underwater, forever. Earth is 70% ocean by surface area.

I remember recent years when New Jersey had perpetual water restrictions from too little rain - and that was also blamed on global warming. And I'm old enough to remember when all of these phenomena were in fact the result of global cooling - 1940-1970 was slightly colder than previous decades. Granting that my limited personal experience is no more conclusive than anyone's, I'm still skeptical.

*Bad news - a lot of other people are skeptical. Easterbrook's article, for example, has this money quote: "Earth's surface, atmosphere and seas are warming; ocean currents are slowing; ice shelves are melting faster than projected; spring is coming ever sooner; rainfall patterns are changing; North American migratory birds are ranging father north; the ability of the earth to self-regulate to resist warming appears to be waning."

The question is, over what time period? Go back to the turn of the century? The turn of the second millenium? From year to year the seas may even cool. Nor can I see the big problem in changing rain patterns and migrations, since that could easily be a case of nature's adaptability. Which gets us to the last sentence - self-regulating to resist warming. If this is true, then we should not be surprised at all that the earth is getting a bit warmer; neither should we automatically conclude that it's not supposed to get warmer from time to time. The planet is rather a complicated system and fluctuations can't be that unusual.

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