Chicken Little and the canary in the coal mine

We wish we could fly away from troubles. Wings would help. All our angels have them.

And when we need the gift of spirit, there is always a partridge or two in a pear tree. Or humor, Big Bird. Or entertainment, video games by Tony Hawk. We invest a lot in birds.

We share the same energy and light. Mankind is a remarkable combination of bone and feather, colors glazed on by fashion, the trappings of power or other conceits and inside, these little fluttering hearts.

Then there is Chicken Little, jumping up and down because he can’t fly but thinks he sees what is ahead, and nearby, his sober cousin, the canary in the coal mine swaying on a perch.
Before hand-held gadgets protected miners from carbon monoxide and other deadly gases, it used to be our feathery friends that did.

Big men carried little cages into the mines. The bird toppling dead as a doornail set the miners to flight, pails and shovels clattering behind them to safety.

We have an impressive list, already, of dead canaries from global warming.

The disappearing coral reef. Mount Kilimanjaro without its snowy peak. Missing frogs, sick turtles, beached whales, disappearing islands in the Pacific, vanishing Everglades mangroves, the melting Arctic, dwindling phytoplankton, the warming permafrost, retreating glaciers, extreme weather events, species going extinct at an exceptional clip, and the spread of opportunistic viruses.

The problem, of course, is that as these canaries topple over, there is no flight for mankind. On the course to a hotter planet, it feels as though humanity has begun to hydroplane like a car on a rain-slicked highway, with the abject fear of not knowing what shape we will be in when the vehicle comes to rest.

The good news is that mayors in 131 American cities are organizing to meet the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, which the Bush administration trashed and, in so doing, scared sensible people around the world.

The bad news is that the Kyoto Protocol—whose timetables for carbon reduction developed nations are struggling to meet—cannot quickly reverse impacts from the awesome accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, caused by man.

What the Bush White House needs to do, now, and what the Republican-led Congress needs to do, now, and what Gov. Jeb Bush—who presides over a state with some of the most valuable coastal property in the nation—needs to do now is stop hyping technologies like hydrogen-cell batteries that will take decades to commercialize and put in place significantly higher fuel standards for cars and trucks that use readily available technology.

Now.

I have ordered my hybrid. It’s on the way from Japan.

Pardon a little anger: For decades the automotive lobby has hammered presidents and Congress about the severe costs to its business by mandating higher mileage standards. And they lost tons of business anyway.

While European and Japanese car and truck manufacturers adapted their product lines to high energy costs, GM and Ford propelled themselves to junk bond status.

American consumers have been stuck with the choice of spending an increasing portion of income on gasoline, and as a result, the unreasonable bargain of squandering our nation’s wealth to be the world’s policeman for unstable, foreign sources of oil.

Well, there is good news. Nay-sayers on global warming are dying out. The bad news is that they are concentrated in Washington and our state capitals like fish in a drying pond.

It is from this chum ball that claims are spreading how mankind will “adapt” to climate variability. They belong, like newspaper ads of global energy companies that soberly assess their responsibility to the planet, at the bottom of the bird cage.

Democrats and Republicans should heed the advice of the Energy Future Coalition, a bipartisan effort by former defense and public officials, scientists, industry and policy experts whose distance from political campaign contributions allows them to speak freely.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey said in a recent Scripps report, “I think the hydrogen research should be cut radically and we should be spending the resources on encouraging the utilization of technologies that are either already developed or very near future.” Amen.

If you knew there was a 51 percent chance your house was going to burn down, and that it was going to happen in six hours, what would you do?

Would you sit watching television for five and a half hours before gathering up the kids and pets and photos and heading out the door? Or wait five hours and 59 minutes for the fire trucks to arrive?
I hope not. I really, really hope not. And that is the canary in the coal mine swaying on his perch, not Chicken Little.

To understand the difference, read the terrific series on global climate change by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker. (http://www.newyorker.com/online/hard drive/ read “A Planetary Problem” by Elizabeth Kolbert.)
Sure, the climate has been hotter than it is today. And dinosaurs roamed the Earth then, too.

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