Sunday, May 11, 2008

Snaps to All That

Mike Tidwell in Orion Magazine bears witness to a snap:

Our climate system isn’t just “changing.” It’s not just “warming.” It’s snapping, violently, into a whole new regime right before our eyes. A fantastic spasm of altered weather patterns is crashing down upon our heads right now. ... A CLIMATE SNAP? REALLY? It sounds so much like standard fear-mongering and ecohyperbole. But here’s proof: One of the most prestigious scientific bodies in the world, the group that just shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for its climate work, predicted fourteen months ago that unchecked global warming could erase all of the Arctic Ocean’s summertime ice as early as 2070. Then, just two months later, in April 2007, a separate scientific panel released data indicating that the 2070 mark was way off, suggesting that ice-free conditions could come to the Arctic as early as the summer of 2030. And as if this acceleration weren’t enough, yet another prediction emerged in December 2007. Following the year’s appalling melt season, in which vast stretches of Arctic ice the size of Florida vanished almost weekly at times, a credible new estimate from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, indicated there could be zero—zero—summer ice in the Arctic as early as 2013.
These swings in projections underscore the complexities and uncertainties of climate science, uncertainties that the fossil fuel industries will continue to balloon into outright denialism on global warming. The disappearance of polar ice and the stubbornness of droughts are here for all to see, whatever the models say.

Meanwhile, closer to home (if your home is in the USA), mass transit ridership is climbing along with gas prices:
Mass transit systems around the country are seeing standing-room-only crowds on bus lines where seats were once easy to come by. Parking lots at many bus and light rail stations are suddenly overflowing, with commuters in some towns risking a ticket or tow by parking on nearby grassy areas and in vacant lots ... The increase in transit use coincides with other signs that American motorists are beginning to change their driving habits, including buying smaller vehicles. The Energy Department recently predicted that Americans would consume slightly less gasoline this year than last — for the first yearly decline since 1991.
Yay mass transit? Paul Krugman offers the buzzkill:
[A]s of 2005, only 4.7 percent of American workers took mass transit to work. So even a 10% surge in mass transit ridership would take only around half a percent of drivers off the road.

The point isn’t that nothing can be done — it’s just that serious reductions in driving would require a lot of long-term rearrangement of the way we live. It will come — but not quickly.
Here in the People's Republic of Portland and places like it, this isn't such a big deal: instead of sitting alone in a gigantic SUV on I-84 listening to rush hour traffic and talk radio ads, we can sit in the MAX and listen to the sales pitches for candy bars as sold out of the pockets of the shoplifters themselves. But for townies in places like Ponca City, Oklahoma and Klamath Falls, Oregon, there is no MAX, nor any other mass transit option. Only the shoplifters.

I honestly don't know how the substantial portions of the USA lacking alternative forms of transportation will adjust as gasoline prices inch past $4/gallon and ascend from there, but it is not a happy snap.

We may look back on the eight years of Clinton-Gore and the succeeding eight years of Bush-Cheney as sixteen years of abysmal frittering, and not only in the already-expected ways (obsessing over Bill Clinton's sex life, launching wars against non-threats), but as a last window of time when we didn't bother to bend on matters of energy and transportation, choosing to allow ourselves to break later. Snap.

1 comment:

mikesdak said...

In South Dakota the initial adjustment will be simple,although not easy: spend less on other things. The taxi service in Pierre is expanding and offering trolley services with regular stops, which may work well given the number of people who work in certain areas such as the Capitol. Otherwise,cut back elsewhere because a certain amount of gasoline is a necessity.