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If the North Pole melts, where do I tell my kid Santa lives?

September 6, 2012

Sometimes I wonder what it would take to end the climate change debate. What would be a compelling argument? Because deep down, there is a journalist part of me that is naturally skeptical.

Too skeptical in fact to be 100% sure. To give a good furniture answer: I'd say I'm sure up into the high "double digits." With gains this year. Probably enough to where I'd be labeled an alarmist by some.

Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm - William Lloyd Garrison.
It's hard to be completely sure about anything - especially the weather and climate change. What would be enough proof? Even if North Carolina's Outer Banks were under water - which very well could happen if significant melting were to occur - would it be enough?

And then what?

One thing I'm sure of: You won't hear much about the climate in this year's presidential elections. Nobody wants to hear too much about it. Then again, you didn't hear "drill baby drill" much in Tampa this year - not after BP's Deepwater Horizon fiasco/environmental disaster in 2010.

That the Waxman-Markley emissions trading plan made it though the U.S. House of Representatives in 2009 - before getting killed in the Senate - must have been some sign of the apocalypse.

The major problem is, if climate change were to exist and a hasty plan of action were needed, then gradual solutions like Waxman-Markley or cap-and-trade would not work because their goals take decades.

So, instead of having our pain come gradually as targets are met - even in the midst of a recession - it would come all at once. Just because you push off the piper doesn't mean he won't get paid.

It's kind of like the financial Armageddon that faced our banks in recent years. The only bailout we'd get is a bucket for our sinking boats.

Certainly lawmakers haven't been reading the news these last two weeks about the melting of the Arctic Ice cap to record low levels and continued melting concerns in Greenland.

Then a study came out reporting that there might be enough methane under the Antarctic ice sheet to multiply its concentration in the atmosphere by a factor of 12.

Greenland and Antarctica are the ones to worry about. Of course, there's a lot we don't know for sure still. It's tough to get down under those ice sheets with a ruler. Greenland's is nearly two miles thick.

One thing we do know, these two ice sheets contain enough water to raise our oceans by 220 feet.

I'll sum up some of the climate news from the last few weeks as it looked to me. For the last few years, climate scientists have stood behind some general predictions about how quickly weird weather changes could take place.

But this year, with the record Arctic melt and the possibility of an ice free Arctic not far off, they're seeing some things happen many years sooner than they'd originally thought.

The pace of the Arctic Ice Cap's melting - with about a month left in the melt season - had some wondering if the models were too conservative.

Why is it concerning? The cap at the North Pole, besides being the home of Santa Claus and his elves, is known more for its reflecting qualities than its potential melting effect on our shorelines, which would be minimal.

The cap, like the white roof on energy efficient buildings, reflects sunlight back into the sky instead of absorbing those rays.

Less ice means the ocean would absorb more sunlight and get warmer, which warms up even more ice, resulting in even more warmth for the ocean. In essence it becomes a global warming accelerator.

And it may be disturbing the jet stream and giving us more extreme weather.

I don't blame the climate scientists - whose jobs are typically grounded in what they can prove versus what they can predict.

There's so much scrutiny of whatever they find, and so much anti-science sentiment out there, that for those of us following these stories, we're kind of off in our own little corner trying to figure out what the findings mean.

Journalists have been upbraided by the environmental community for ignoring a story that nobody seems to care about any more. But if nobody cares about an issue, newspapers will not report on it. Period.

Probably the biggest concern for anybody is looking stupid. Let's say that the weather refuses to respond in a predictable way this winter, or even next week. Or we get the first whiff of winter and Rush Limbaugh sneers and says, "There's the snow! Global warming doesn't exist!"

While that's revealing of his ignorance on climate change, it's also a reminder of why this issue doesn't get taken seriously. Former Vice President Al Gore was laughed at heartily for comments he made about an ice-free Arctic in the last decade.

Wouldn't it be ironic if Al Gore - the right's go to whipping boy on climate change - had the last laugh?

***In case you're curious about Al Gore, he's now presenting an updated version of "An Inconvenient Truth," with some of this year's extreme weather factored in.

The problem with the weather rhetoric is that we don't know what's going to happen. Nobody does. Not the weatherman, nor the climate scientists, can tell you.

That makes it easy to write off this year's melt. Who can say what is the point of no return? Who can say if we are actually seeing a canary in the coal mine?

Climate scientists might as well be tarot card readers in the minds of most Americans - especially in the minds of this year's crop of politicians.

Back before the Great Recession, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan couldn't see the froth on the one of the biggest bubbles in history getting ready to POP. The National Assn. of Realtors saw nothing but blue skies.

Would they have heeded the warning signs if they could have seen what was coming?

If the North Pole melts, I'm going to tell my kids Santa's a scuba diver.