If only politicians could connect the dots, they would be able to see where their actions and inactions are headed. Too bad they’re so myopic. Too bad they’re so worried about getting re-elected that they cannot agree to act beyond their own and their own consti- tuents’ near-term self-interests. Too bad because our kids and grandkids will be left with both the consequences and the bills.
Scientists can connect the dots. They are experts at seeing cause-and-effect relationships, like Darwin was. Darwin saw two obviously related species of birds on separate but proximate islands in the Galapagos archipelago, each looking very much alike except for very different-looking beaks. Darwin observed that the food the birds had to eat differed on the two islands. On one island, there were a plethora of insects. On the other, where there were far fewer insects, there was an abundance of hard seeds produced by drought-resistant plants. The relationship was self-evident to Darwin: One species had evolved into two subspecies through a process that is known today as the theory of evolution. Random genetic variations in beak size and shape, passed on from parent birds to their young, had favored the survival and subsequent procreation of some, while discouraging others. Darwin connected the dots, then he wrote his famous book, The Origin of Species.
Scientists like Darwin deal in probabilities, recognizing that in nature that there are no absolutes. All scientific knowledge, save for the laws of physics, are stated in terms of theory. Politicians, on the other hand, demand absolutes from science; it’s their way of avoiding painful decisions. But there is no way to know for certain that an on-coming beer truck, or astroid for that matter, is going to hit us until after it has.
Scientists have recently connected more dots, the dots connecting a sudden and dramatically-increased incidence in western wildfires in this country since the late 1980s. These dots also connect to lengthened wildfire seasons, especially at higher elevations. All the dots connect to global warming. This was revealed in a scientific study published Thursday and reported in MSNBS’s Aladdin on-line news service. The study also says, not rulling out other possible environmental causes, that human-environmental interaction, our prolonged generation of an ever-increasing amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, is the most probable cause.
“The increase in large wildfires appears to be another part of a chain of reactions to climate warming,” said Dan Cayan, a co-author of the paper and director of the climate research division at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Come-on Washington. Wake-up and smell the smoke. As if last week’s record rainfall in Washington, DC and the rest of the great Northeast, images of polar bears stranded by shrinking icecaps, and the horrible hurricane season of 2005 have not been wake-up calls enough. We need legislation to encourage the development of new, clean sources of energy, legislation to reward reduced consumption rather than the purchase of gas-guzzling SUVs, legislation to protect the forests and the wetlands that absorb the carbon dioxide, legislation to compell electric companies to produce more clean energy with existing technology. We need this kind of legislation a whole lot more than we need legislation that promotes the drilling for more oil out of Alaska, an amount that won’t even put a dent in our dependency on foreign sources. Most of all, we need responsible legislation, legislation not driven solely by economic factors to address the known causes of global warming, whether or not it can do more than just slow the trend. We need it simply because it’s the right thing to do. Come on Washington, let’s create a legacy for our kids that says, “Hey, at least we tried to leave you a better world.”
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