DUCK SOUP: Another Brick in the Wall

The third day of November brought sobering news.No, not the U.S. election returns, which no matter how cleverly pundits struggle to spin them were largely a resounding victory for the status quo. Rather it is the latest report from Britain's Hadley Centre for Climate Change which should make everyone sit up and pay attention. If Tuesday's report, delivered at a U.N. conference in Buenos Aires, had hit the headlines here a few weeks before our elections, I find it difficult to believe that U.S. voters would have returned a single Republican to the Senate.Then again, complacency is pandemic and comfy.Hadley Centre is home to the world's largest super-computer which has crunched the latest numbers on global warming and delivered the most comprehensive analysis yet of our planetary climate. It appears the heat is going to get a whole lot worse and it will happen sooner than you can imagine. The evidence suggests that present warming trends will result in runaway greenhouse conditions by about 2050.Previous modelling had suggested that increased plant growth -- enhanced by extra carbon in the atmosphere and warmer temperatures -- would moderate the heat. But the new projection indicates that much of Brazil's rainforest will turn to desert, that vast areas of central Africa and the United States will become dust bowls, and that rains will fail in the Eastern U.S. and southern Europe. The result will be a feedback loop of spiraling temperatures.As the tropics spread north, tropical diseases will follow, malaria chief among them. Unlike southern populations, we residents of temperate regions with no history of malaria have little or no immunity to the disease and the effect will be devastating.While we witness Honduras and Nicaragua struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, and remember the skewed weather patterns of last year's El Nino -- two of the more obvious symptoms of sweeping change -- the continued refusal of Republican lawmakers to approve even the modest Kyoto accords is intolerable. U.S. policy is being held hostage by polluting industries which will lose money if we decide to clean up our act.Today, when a majority of the world's atmospheric scientists warn that industrial pollution must be curbed, our Congress responds with a rider prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency from informing the American people about the crisis. Talk about leadership! When the news gets really bad, Republican legislators with pockets full of campaign cash decide to shoot the newsboy.In light of official ostrichism, it seems grimly ironic that the United States is likely to suffer geopolitically when the rains fail. Wheat and corn crops which have made us the bread basket of the world, and contribute enormously to our economy, would be hit hard by the projected heat wave. Last week's emergency grain deal with Russia is a timely reminder that our influence with hungry nations hinges on plentitude at home. Would Boris return Bill's phone calls if our granaries were empty?Speaking of the president (and having sufficiently blasted Congressional Republicans) one cannot help but note that Mr. Clinton is far more concerned about the economy than the environment. It is widely surmised that he is also deeply concerned about his place in history, and believes that successful Israeli-Palistinian arbitration might enhance his footnote in some future Britannica.A more clear-eyed president would observe that the Mid-East Peace Process has been going on since the Sermon on the Mount and will probably continue at the same breath-taking pace into the equidistant future -- provided we have one. Alternatively, if Mr. Clinton would proclaim that he will veto every bill which crosses his desk until the Senate ratifies the Kyoto agreement, and henceforth veto any bill carrying anti-environmental riders, he could establish that he is a vertebrate. Greatness, oh Chief, is demonstrated, not focus grouped and polled.Commenting on the Hadley computer projection, Michael Meacher, the British environment minister, said: "... Combating climate change is the greatest challenge of human history."An invitation to Stockholm surely awaits the person who leads our civilization to a cooler future. Then too, there's always Rushmore.

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