Philobiblon: Is this the fall of the Roman Empire?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Is this the fall of the Roman Empire?

The problem with bad news on climate change is that it just keeps stacking up and up, and the media, inevitably, gets bored with what seems to be "more of the same". This is probably why the Arctic ice pack story hasn't got anything like the attention it deserved this week.

Sea ice in the Arctic has failed to re-form for the second consecutive winter...
The greatest fear is that an environmental "positive feedback" has kicked in, where global warming melts ice which in itself causes the seas to warm still further as more sunlight is absorbed by a dark ocean rather than being reflected by white ice....
Although sea levels are not affected by melting sea ice - which floats on the ocean - the Arctic ice cover is thought to be a key moderator of the northern hemisphere's climate. It helps to stabilise the massive land glaciers and ice sheets of Greenland which have the capacity to raise sea levels dramatically.

If that isn't scary enough for you, the killer line is on the end of the article - that this outcome is predicted by climate change models, but under those models it was not supposed to happen for "a few decades yet".

I've joined the Green Party, got involved in other small ways with environmental work, with the thought that I was doing my bit to prevent catastrophe after I was dead. After reading and thinking about this story, however, I had a flash of a serious thought, for the first time, whether I should buy 10 acres in some carefully calculated spot (somewhere high up, but not likely to get too hot), build a bloody great wall around it, and learn how to get self-sufficient, fast.

I've read a bit around the fall of the Roman Empire. They didn't believe it could happen either - at least not in their lifetimes.

But hey, I have had one tiny success. I'm often at the British Library, where they supply thick, clear plastic bags for people to carry supplies into the reading rooms, which can be easily checked by staff. Every evening, there are stacks of these scattered around the locker room and cloak room, where readers have dumped them. Many of these same readers come back the next day and pick up a pristine new one, although I've found by experience they can easily last for months.

So I left a comment in the appropriate box and yesterday got back an email:

Your suggestion of a notice encouraging readers to re-use their clear plastic bags, when using the Library, is very much appreciated. Your comments have been forwarded to the relevant section requesting a notice be placed in the cloak room. It is hoped that this will soon be in place.

Might have saved about one cube of ice there; a "drop in the ocean" is the phrase that comes to mind.


Blogger clanger said...

Ironically, various people keep popping out of the woodwork to suggest that climate change coverage is hype to sell newspapers.

This is of course what happens when your press has spent years sensationalising stories, regardless of whether they are true or not, important or trivial, to sell newspapers, and then finds itself with a proper grown-up story.

The print media's credibility was flushed down the lavvy many moons ago. Boy crying wolf etc.

Its difficult to know whether to be more worried about rising sea levels (London, the BL, and for that matter the CUL and Clanger's gran's house in Norfolk are all fairly low-lying), the deflection of the gulf-stream as a by-product of climate change (think Canadian winters, ice-storms, -30 degrees, and leaving your car engine on permanently so the engine block doesn't freeze solid), or just global warming itself.

Of course we may not have to worry, as bird flu may get most of us first [see the review of two books on it in this week's TLS].

It transpires that the global battery chicken industry (a supra-national advocate of Auschwitz-for-chickens) has enough political clout to slow any response that might cost them a few sovs, the domestic fowl-keeping hygiene regimes in many dirt-poor un/developing countries is, well, foul (for China think Victorian London and the repeated epidemics and poor public health), and Big Pharma isn't that interested in anti-flu viruses, as there's more money in treatments for diabetes and heart disease (for clinically obese westerners with credit cards).

Politicians don't actually like the idea of anti-flu innoculations, it seems, because they innoculated a lot of people against swine fever some time ago, the outbreak never came, and they took all the flak when some unfortunates reacted badly to the innoculations. Look at the heat they took recently over MMR.

It seems the consumer ethic: we paid for it, so it should do what it says on the tin, is expected to cover medicines, even though they will always have side effects on a percentage of users.

I suppose if 'one of the above' comes to pass, we won't have to deal with the unpleasant diseases of old age caused by a lifetime of breathing industrially polluted air (north of England) or car-exhaust polluted air (most of England).

However, much of the nation is too busy smoking, drinking, unsafely shagging, over-eating and snorting its way into an early grave to notice the big environmental dangers.

Have a nice day.

3/16/2006 02:43:00 pm  
Blogger John said...

Climate change is definitely a big problem, and I think that it will be felt in a big way sooner rather than later. As to the effects of the different options listed in clanger's comment, my response would be "all of the above." The changes will affect different parts of the globe in different ways, all will may be disastrous to our current standards of life. In addition we have to look forward to worse storms in the tropics - droughts and cyclones.

But we are not all going to die from the bird flu. I would be surprised if the outcome is anywhere near what some of the more hysterical reports predict.

3/16/2006 03:31:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

No, I'm not worrying at all about bird flu. The risk now is about the same as it has been for the past 50 years, and we are far, far better equipped to deal with it now than ever before.

And London, well they'll defend London for a long time, until it can absolutely no longer be defended. So hopefully they'll get the BM and the BL cleared, although of course that might be the last of anyone's worries by then. Hopefully the species that takes over will also have archaeologists - the dolphins should be quite good at underwater archaeology ...

3/17/2006 01:19:00 am  
Anonymous dave ware said...

Good for you--I've been through airports where they give you a nice little zip-closed plastic bag for your pocket contents, then encourage passers-through to return them for re-use. I confess that I have kept a couple since they're usable for other things that need to be restrained in transit or in the fridge.

The global-warming naysayers (including our Chief Executive) have buried the pack-ice story and dozens of other ought-to-be-cautionary tales, but the science based on empirical observations will out, over time; I expect there will be great fortunes made in sea walls, levees and tidal barriers. Were the Stevensons still in the lighthouse-building business, I would be they'd be expanding into this line of work.

Down the road a few years, we or our children will be wishing that we'd had the sense (and gelt in pocket) to buy property in Hampstead before it became desirable riverfront territory....

3/17/2006 05:59:00 pm  

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