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The Serendipitous Sinclair Lewis

The Webster Retort
By Stephen Webster
Investigative Reporter
July 1, 2006

The Serendipitous Sinclair Lewis

Man it's getting hot - hot - hot
I said man it's getting hot - hot - hot
It's getting hotter
And hotter
Man it's getting hot - hot
It's getting hot around here

It's a meltdown
It's a meltdown

--AC/DC, Meltdown

As I write this, it is a relaxing 81 degrees. A partly-cloudy, early Summer morning, the office is cool and the skies are mostly blue. It is hard to believe that our globe is under dire threat due mostly to my own activities. This isn’t something that I have seen within my own lifetime, granted I am a mere 20-something. Nor is it something that even my father had seen or noticed; he once told me in my youth that Global Warming is not real, and that before I reach his age I would be worried about Global Cooling. And he wasn’t even a member of the College Republicans …

After seeing Al Gore’s rather terrifying film An Inconvenient Truth, I finally began doing some research of my own. Rather than swallow a politician’s Truth, which is often quite far removed from the every-day realities of MY world, I put my ear to the rail, and my eyes on the newswires. After all, Gore was one of the architects of the “pollution credits” scheme, which would have allowed the dirtiest of corporations to creating a “free market” for these credits. Any company that has the urge to purge just needs to pay out the almighty dollar and Volia! Sulfuric soil à la mode. So, Gore got a raised eyebrow from me. Certainly, I thought, he was laughing all the way to the bank on this one.

Global Warming is THIS hot!

Then, last week, I was convinced Global Warming is real by a small man in a wheel-chair with an eye for Chinese women.

"I like Chinese culture, Chinese food and above all Chinese women,” said famed American scientist Stephen Hawking to a group of students in Beijing. “They are beautiful." While I agree with this sentiment, it was his remarks on Global Warming that alarmed me. He claimed that Earth "might end up like Venus, at 250 degrees centigrade and raining sulfuric acid." Oh.

He went on to say that he wishes he could live out the next 100 years, just to see if humanity will survive. “It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species,” said Hawking. “Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of.”

Um. That’s not good. But, with so much controversy over the issue and all, I dug a bit further. While talking about this issue with a group of intellectual 20-somethings, a book called The Satanic Gasses, by Robert C. Balling, Jr. and Patrick J. Michaels, was recommended. A quick trip to Borders Books and I had the hard-back in hand. Two hours and three cups of coffee later, I arrived at some inconclusive conclusions.

Balling and Michaels say that to fight Global Warming, which they claim to be a hoax, would devastate America’s economy. To refocus efforts into developing alternative fuels that could replace gasoline and standard methods of electricity production would break us as a nation. I wasn’t so sure of this. Then the EPA released a report on June 22 that claimed the development of alternative, carbon-neutral fuels like biodiesel and ethanol would not drive up prices but lower them. The agency also claims the eco-friendly industries would create jobs and boost the economy.

Balling and Michaels also claim “there seems to have been no warming in recent decades either.” Try as I might to soak up this argument, I decided to place my faith in the National Academy of Sciences, which, on June 23, issued a report claiming that "recent warmth is unprecedented for at least the last 400 years and potentially the last several millennia.” They add that recent warming up-trends are due largely to human activity. But if there are no warming up-trends, as Satanic Gasses claims, no worries, right?

A few days after I had taken the book home, I discovered that Balling was paid by Exxon-Mobile in 2002 to pen a study entitled “The 2000 United States Historical Climate Network Update: What Changed?” He has also been the recipient of hundreds of thousands of dollars from oil and coal industries from Kuwait, the U.K. and Germany. So, I got my money back from Borders. Damn hucksters. Never mind the former Bush Administration official who censored NASA scientists about to go public with new concerns over Global Warming. Now he is a lobbyist for Exxon-Mobile.

Nobody knows for sure
Whatever happened to good time buddy
I don’t see hem round no more

The heat is on, everybody has gone underground
The heat is on, everybody hiding out just like Jesse James
My old home town
Lord, it don’t seem the same

--Allman Brothers Band, The Heat is On

Many climate scientists insist that the two land masses that weigh in the most on global climate and weather patterns are Greenland and Antarctica. The Greenland Ice Shelf is two miles thick, and so broad that it could cover the entirety of Mexico and have a Texas-sized serving of cold cubes on spare tap. Should the ice here disappear, claims Glaciologist Jay Zwally, worldwide sea level would rise by 21 feet, drastically alter ocean currents causing droughts and freezes in places unexpected, and fuel the ever-increasing strength of hurricanes and tornados.

On June 25, the L.A. Times reported the Greenland Ice Shelf is melting twice as fast as it was five years ago. Thinking this headline sounded a bit cryptic, I hunkered down for a long, complicated read. Turns out researchers have found the glacier ice to be a world climate records system of sorts. Here, they discovered particles of snow that fell over a quarter of a million years ago, perfectly preserved. They analyzed carbon samples by drilling deep within the ice, which lead them to conclude there have been 20 abrupt changes in global climate over the last 110,000 years. Temperature averages varied nearly 15 degrees in a single decade, at one point. Obviously, that could not have been due to human activity.

Then, in March of this year, Zwally and his team found that the ice sheet had actually grown very slightly between 1992 and 2002. But the good news did not last for long. By 2005, the scientists had documented losses of 52 cubic miles of ice per year. The amount of fresh water being dumped into the ocean had tripled since 1995. They found the average winter temperature in Greenland had risen 10 degrees since 1991, causing strange melting incidents as late in the year as December. Then the bottom fell out; almost literally.

Zwally’s team documented the shelf’s three largest glaciers’ speed of withdraw. According to their report, the Kangerlussaq and Jakobshavn Glaciers have doubled their pace since 2002. The Helheim Glacier pulls back half a football field every day. Twelve major glacial outlets drain the ice shelf of melted water that endangers the structure as a whole, in the same way rivers drain watersheds. If the glaciers continue to pull back this quickly, in a decade – two at most – the entire ice sheet will “suddenly collapse” into the ocean. Greenland will go back to being three large islands, and Waco, Texas will be beachfront property.

Surf's up in Crawford, dudes! Just ... give it a couple decades.

Anyone with a vivid imagination can close their eyes and see the devastation this would cause. But it would be difficult, even for the most ardent Rolland Emmerich disciple, to picture the full scope of the damage. It would be the greatest natural disaster humanity has ever seen. And for a 20-something like me, it means either dying in one such disaster, or potentially living in a domed city by the time I am 40. The thought is, shall we say, somewhat troubling. Sounds a lot like what Stephen Hawking said in Beijing.

My baby gimme high temperature
My baby gimme high temperature
97... 98 is just a... false alarm
My temperature 105 when I hold her... in my arms
103... 4 and 5... It get too hot to stay alive!

--Aerosmith, Temperature

On a personal level, I must come clean. I have no idea if this is real or not. I do not see it day to day. Sure, several of the top 10 “hottest years” on record have taken place within the last five, but what does this mean? Yes, the air quality in Dallas gets so bad on some days even I dare not venture out into the soup. And it is indeed true that America and her corporations are the top polluters in the world. But does this really affect world climate?

Weighed on my scales of logic, Stephen Hawking and the National Academy of Science are a ton and a half heavier than a “researcher” on Exxon-Mobile’s payroll. I believe it was Sinclair Lewis who wrote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding.”

So, what can be done about this? It is actually pretty simple on a personal level. Until alternative, carbon-neutral fuels are available to a mass market, try to carpool to work. A good resource is eRideShare.com. Get your car tested for emissions and consider buying a catalytic muffler to help control your carbon output. Think about switching electric providers to a green alternative. In Texas, such a provider is available: Green Mountain Energy. It is the same price as TXU, and they operate on green energy credits from wind farms and hydroelectric plants. Buy some energy-saver light bulbs: not only will it put some extra dollars in your account come bill time, but they last over five years so you don’t have to buy new ones as frequently.

Also, keep your air-vent filters clean and changed, as your air conditioner has to work extra hard when there is a mass of dirt and grime blocking its passage. You’ll breathe a little better, too. Keep your thermostat at least four degrees higher in the summer and four degrees lower in the winter. Insulate your home and make sure your windows are calked. Plant a tree in your yard. Buy fresh food instead of frozen goods, and shop at your local farmer’s market instead of Wal-Mart. Try to use clotheslines instead of dryers. And unplug that power strip when you’re not using it.

These are very simple steps you can take as just one person to help reduce your impact on Global Warming. It is not too late to help turn the tide back to our favor, and it does not necessarily require the type of “political will” Mr. Al Gore calls for (though some would be helpful). All that is being asked of you is a slight pause for additional thought. This is not “environmental extremism,” it is simple logic that can help us all look forward to a more stable future. Change is within our grasp, and living in fear of the Great Greenland Shelf Collapse does not have to be our predetermined next decade. You can do it, and we can all help. It is easy.

Suppose Exxon-Mobile turns out to be a greater fountain of knowledge than Stephen Hawking and The National Academy of Science. Suppose everything I just wrote is pure crap and Global Warming really does not exist. It is a hoax designed to hurt America, and Whew! Good thing we didn’t fall for it. Even then, if we all expended just the slightest bit of effort, we wouldn’t have to worry about soupy air and “red ozone alerts” anymore. Our kids would be healthier and our allergies would not flare up so often. We would save on medical and electric bills, and every front yard would have some nice shade. Really, how is that so bad?

Stephen Webster is an Investigative Reporter with North-Texas weekly The News Connection, a Staff Writer with George W. Bush's hometown paper The Lone Star Iconoclast, a Contributing Writer to Peace Journalism Magazine and The Bleeding Quill, a former contributor to The Dallas Morning News' Science & Technology section and the former Editor-in-Chief of Binary Culture.

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