THE BLOG

The Meltdown We Really Can't Afford

11/12/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hey, ho, where's the cash flow? Wasn't the bailout supposed to get those streams of credit flowing again? But while the titans of trickle-down and the free-reign rainmakers pray for new rivers of revenue to float their boats, some venerable bodies of water beyond the canyons of Wall Street are in danger of literally evaporating--and all the money in the world won't bring them back once we pass that terrible tipping point.

London Bridge isn't falling down, but the river it spans may be drying up, according to the Guardian:

"Britain's rivers could nearly run dry because long hot summers caused by climate change will not be sufficiently compensated by wetter winters...the overall average trend is towards drastically reduced river flows across the country."

And, to get truly biblical, the BBC reports that years of drought have helped decimate the Sea of Galilee. Should Jesus decide to revisit his old stomping grounds anytime soon (as Sarah Palin reportedly expects him to), the miracle worker who fed the multitudes will be hard pressed to find even two fish in the dregs of this ancient sea, doggone it.

But while rivers and lakes all over the world are simply vanishing into the ether, something really insidious is bubbling up from the Arctic seabed. Scientists have just discovered that "massive deposits of sub-sea methane are bubbling to the surface as the Arctic region becomes warmer and its ice retreats." This could speed up climate change to an unprecedented degree, as the Independent reports:

Methane is about 20 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and many scientists fear that its release could accelerate global warming in a giant positive feedback where more atmospheric methane causes higher temperatures, leading to further permafrost melting and the release of yet more methane.

Nevermind the "negative feedback loop" that's strangling Wall Street. If we don't get a handle on this positive feedback loop--which, let's be clear, is not a positive development--it's going to hang us all, and the future of our financial markets won't matter one molecule.

Yes, it's awful that our nation's debt has ballooned so badly that, as of September 30, we passed the $10 trillion mark and the National Debt Clock ran out of room. The Durst Organization, which maintains the billboard, had to bump the dollar sign to accommodate all those zeroes.

But the figure we need to focus on now is not measured in trillions, or billions--it's parts per million (ppm), the way we measure the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. If we had a billboard tracking that figure (maybe the Durst Organization would care to donate one?), it would currently read "385 ppm." Unfortunately, James Hansen and his climatologist colleagues have concluded that if we hope to escape catastrophic climate change, we've got to get back to 350 ppm ASAP.

That's why Bill McKibben, the environmental activist and author, founded 350.org, a website devoted to getting the word out about how our collective goose is getting cooked. There's still time to pull ourselves out of the fryer--but just barely. McKibben, who's been sounding the alarm on global warming for nearly two decades (see The End of Nature), told a group of bloggers the other day that the scientists he's been talking to for the past several decades about climate change are "just panicking," at this point. By the year 2012, these experts say, it will be too late to avoid the most dire consequences of global warming, at the rate we're going.

The carbon cabal that's held our country captive these past eight years has cost us precious time in the fight to reduce the world's greenhouse gases. It may have been a Freudian slip when John McCain addressed the crowd at a Pennsylvania rally on Wednesday as "my fellow prisoners," but he inadvertently evoked the feeling of helplessness so many of us have had as the Bush administration stubbornly refused, for years, to even admit that climate change was a problem, and then--having grudgingly conceded that it was real--made virtually no meaningful effort to address this crisis.

But now, with the promise of a new administration, there's hope that the next U.S. president will stop stalling and start being the leader that the world needs now, more than ever. And he--be it McCain or Obama (well, OK, please let it be Obama)--doesn't even have to wait till he moves into the White House. There's a party the president-elect should elect to attend even before the Inaugural Ball: The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland this December. And 350.org's got a new campaign calling on us all to invite our president-elect to show up and tell the world that "Team America is ready to get back in the game."

350.org's goal is to send 35,000 invitations to McCain and Obama. They've collected 16,000 signatures already in less than one week, so they're nearly halfway there. And they're calling on folks all over the world to submit videos inviting the candidates to come to Poland; send in your own spin for possible inclusion on 350.org's nifty revolving globe, if you're cinematically inclined.

The goal of this gathering of world leaders is to hammer out the details of the Copenhagen Treaty, the successor to the Kyoto Protocol--i.e., an international accord to help the world find solutions to this dilemma before it becomes a disaster. Imagine what a powerful statement it would be to have our president-elect choose to attend this critical meeting. It would send the message that when it comes to fighting climate change, Americans are no longer AWOL, or MIA.

And come January, we'll no longer be POWs held hostage by pro-petroleum politicians claiming that the U.S. simply can't afford to incur the costs of dealing with climate change because it will destroy our whole economy. Yeah, and higher fuel efficiency standards were going to ruin America's auto industry. Hey, good thing Chrysler dodged that bullet!

Those arguments are kind of moot, now, so can we please move on and show the world that we're through with tricks and ready for a treaty? Go to 350.org and tell our next president that the U.S. has got to be part of the equation if we're going to get the world's greenhouse gas emissions down to 350 ppm. Because it really doesn't matter how low our financial fortunes sink; if temperatures keep rising, there'll be no bailing anyone out.

Originally published on Alternet.org