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Lions Roar : January 2005
GLOBAL WARMING is no longer thesubject of heated debate. In the 1980’s and 1990’s scientists argued whether human activities—especially the burning of fossil fuels— were having an effect on world climate. Today few doubt it. The question is not if, but how much. The surface temperature of the Earth has jumped at least one degree Fahrenheit in the past hundred years, and signs of this extra heat can be seen around the world. The snows of Kilimanjaro have melted by more than 80% and are expect- ed to disappear within a decade. Within thirty years, most if not all of the glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park will be gone. The warmest years on record are grouped in the past decade: 1998, 2002, 2003, 2001 and 1997. Proof of a warmer world is particularly easy to see at the Earth’s poles. Arctic ice covers 10% less ocean than it did just thirty years ago, and the thickness of the ice that remains is dimin- ishing—in some areas it’s 40% thinner. Permafrost is melting. Beyond their effect on local environments, these changes at the poles have significant global implications. The polar regions have a disproportionately large influ- ence on the climate of the entire planet because they pro- vide cooling balance for the Earth’s heating system, which they are less able to do as they grow warmer. Exactly where this will lead, no one is sure. The changes we’re seeing now have come about with a rise of only one degree Fahrenheit. An average of credible scientific projec- tions suggests that in the next hundred years the world’s surface temperature will rise by some five degrees Fahrenheit. This will make the world hotter than it has been in 400 million years. —DAVID SWICK Hot Enough for You? SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2005 35 small glacier grow. But like so many others, this one is receding. Already its forehead has been torn open and is poised to fall. It is not unreasonable to think that a whole sea- son can become extinct, at least for a time. Winter might last only one day—a minor punctuation in a long sentence of heat. Mirages rising from shim- mering heat waves would be the only storms. We have already destroyed so much natural vege- tation on the planet that the increased heat, due to bare ground, deforestation, ineffectual rainfall and city pavement, will have partic- ularly dire effects with nothing to modify them. Hot and toxic: those are the words that will describe where we once lived. Land-ocean-atmosphere-solar-galactic cycles are inextricably linked. One flap of the butterfly and we all fry. Gary returns from a six-hour walka- bout. We argue about how long our “short-term” relationship can possibly last. A snow squall migrates down the narrow canyon toward our tent. I grab the shirts and underwear I’ve washed and pull them in. The wrathful and peaceful deities at the center of the mountain complex are still spinning storms around with their hundred flail- ing arms, still telling us what, in Sanskrit, is called a pariplava, a circular story. Things between us will end when they end. Just as the fate of human life on the planet. But not yet. Storms pulse by. Behind clouds, sun strobes. If the path is whatever passes, no end in itself, why are we walking in circles? Why don’t we just stand? ` For a minute the clouds clear and the orange peaks burst through. A single bumblebee flies by our tent headed into the storm. In the Arctic, at Latitude 80 degrees North, the Arctic bumble- bee—bombus polaris— shivers to keep warm. The worker bees die at the end of summer and the impregnated queen starts a new colony when warm weather returns. I don’t know this southern hemisphere bee, but it must be cold-adapted in ways that we humans are not. I wonder if it will be able to adapt to heat. Gary and I hold each other; we shiver with cold. The bee is bright orange and looks like a piece of fire. © Adapted by the author from The Future of Ice. © 2004 by Gretel Ehrlich. Used by permission of Pantheon Books, a division of Random House Inc. Peruvian Andes, Patagonia