Goodbye Elk, Hello Exxon

The Bush administration has just sent a report to the United Nations, titled "US Climate Action Report 2002" politispeak for no action whatsoever. The details are fascinating.

The report admits for the first time that the United States will be "substantially changed" in the next few decades. We're going to "lose our high Rocky Mountain meadows and coastal marshes." Lose, we're supposed to assume, as in misplace or perhaps having left them somewhere behind the couch. Not as in gone forever. The "next few decades," depending upon your definition of "few," is twenty to thirty years. Wave goodbye to a few more species -- elk, mountain goats, sheep and those nasty grizzly bears -- several hundred kinds of wading birds and ducks, a few more fish and reptiles, a frog here and there -- who needs 'em?

Fast forward to Alaska. Not in a few decades, but today, this morning while you sit over coffee and read up on Tiger Woods. Average temperatures in Alaska have risen seven degrees over the past 30 years (that several decades referred to above) and is predicted to rise an additional 18 degrees by the end of the century. Better go see Alaska before it's gone. What's happening today, not predicted later but going on as you read this is as follows:

In Fairbanks and elsewhere they're jacking up houses built on permafrost that's no longer perma. Buildings are cracking in half, bringing a whole new meaning to "split level."

In the Kenai Peninsula, a recreational area just west of Anchorage and twice the size of Yellowstone Park, a four million acre spruce forest is dead. Not dying or threatened, already dead. Seems the spruce beetles are no longer kept in check by cold winters. The resulting 38 million dead trees nearly guarantee a Yellowstone-like fire and residents can no longer get fire insurance. Kenai has set a record, the largest single-species dieback in history.

Other scattered forests are sinking as permafrost disappears and the water tables rise, causing a phenomena Alaskans call "drunken trees."

Throughout the state, roads are buckling, power poles leaning, houses sinking and of course the Trans-Alaska-Pipeline is in need of shoring up. "We're not going to let global warming sneak up on us," says a pipeline service employee. "When we see leaning and sagging, we move on it." Sounds to me like the sneak has already snuck.

The far north town of Barrow is aswarm with mosquitoes it never had in colder times. Coastal melt has been trapping hunters on broken-up ice floes and such mundane inconveniences as the imminent destruction of their brand new $28 million sewage treatment plant are at hand.

President Bush says we are going to have to live with it.

A White House spokesman played down the significance of the report, explaining that policies on emissions and international treaties would not change as a result. Policies won't change, just the places we live.

The American Petroleum Institute tried to remove projections of specific environmental impacts from the report and says it is "frustrated" that they remained in the final draft. I'll just bet it is.

So, nothing's going to change with this president. Except perhaps Alaska. The Rocky Mountains as well, our seacoasts and soon enough even the place where you live, like maybe New York City, the coming Venice of the millennium.

The administration's report benignly suggests we "adapt" to inevitable changes, accepting more stifling heat waves and watching snow-fed fresh water supplies diminish. They claim there are benefits in all this scary stuff, but you have to be Sherlock Holmes to find them. So the government and the petroleum industry have been careful to point them out in case we ordinary folks with the leaning houses and dead trees are too busy with jacks, chain saws and sump pumps to see them:

There will be increased agricultural and forest growth from longer growing seasons. Tell that to Kenai residents.

We'll have more carbon dioxide and more rainfall for photosynthesis. Gee.

As the South moves north, which it is doing as we have a second cup of coffee, cotton will no longer be a southern crop. We'll be able to grow it in Minnesota.

Those nasty geese may finally disappear from the golf course. The down side of this is that the golf course may disappear as well.

But the Oil Industry tells us the evidence is not yet clear. And, while we may not really believe them in our heart of hearts, it's such a drag to read about this stuff all the time. Industry says this report is just going to "confuse" policy makers. C'mon, guys. We know you are the policy makers and you don't seem confused at all. Certainly not in those lovely oil company ads that show the beautiful deer drinking at the pristine stream.

The Wizard Of Oz is running the country, the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion in charge of both houses of Congress. We the people are reduced to Munchkins, lied to with light shows, the whole of Oz bought and paid for by special interests.

And don't bet that a Gore administration would have been any different, not for a moment.

Where is Dorothy when we need her and who's been hiding the red shoes?

Jim Freeman is author of Evoke (see www.praguewriter.com/evoke.htm), a futurist political novel for those who hate politics and can't stand science fiction.

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