Friday, August 1, 2008

What's Happening?

Adding polar bears as a “threatened” species due to shrinking ice near the North Pole, the US Department of Interior in May released satellite data showing sea ice receded dramatically since 1979. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said this decision was separate, however, from determining if the ice melted due to global warming. On that score, he seemed to say, figure it out for yourselves.

Finding out what's going on ain't easy. We live in a world of rumors, speculation, gossip, political spin, advertisements, tall tales, little white lies, fibs, scams, whoppers, dreams, nightmares, visions, vows, text messages, web postings, talk radio, comedy shows, song lyrics, supermarket tabloid headlines, he said/she said disputes, religious pronouncements, government reports, consumer reports, eyewitness accounts, sworn testimony, news items and conflicting commentaries. So, what really happened?

That’s the dilemma of journalists on deadline, juries, judges and everyone else who wants to know the God’s honest truth. Whether it was an event in the neighborhood or ice sheets melting in the Arctic Ocean that might portend global warming, getting the full story is often tough to do. But environmental issues generally have a clear cut element—something observably changed. Hospital syringes washed up on a swimming beach, for instance. Environmental issues are issues because people noticed a drastic change in their surroundings and complained about it. The outstanding questions usually are: What’s going to be done about it? Who’s responsible? Who’s going to pay for it?

Global warming, or climate change, is a projection by scientists as to what might happen in the future if we continue burning fossil fuels in the same pattern as in the past and today. Some people say it’s sheer speculation. And how are ordinary people to know? This is a tough one. Common sense, however, suggests some ways to test this theory. Compare the temperatures in a large city on a hot day with temperatures in the nearest countryside. Any commuter knows that a city street in summer is much hotter than a forest path just a few miles away. The big question is whether global temperatures can be drastically affected by the cumulative effect of human activity.

Al Gore says yes. Others say no. If Gore is wrong, we may spend a lot of money on windmills and battery-powered cars. If the nay-sayers are wrong, we might end up like the dinosaurs, unable to survive on a drastically changed planet. Big stakes. In this case, finding out what’s going on, and what to do about it, may be vital to our future.

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