The ability of conservatives to remain numb and number to climate change runs into a cold hard slap in the face with a double dose of data from the ends of the earth.
Word that the ice bridge holding the Wilkins Ice Sheet to Antarctica had shattered would be damning enough within a normal news cycle, but it comes at the same time as a study from some of the same scientists showing that only ten percent of Arctic ice is more than two years old as of February 2009 -- an accelerated thinning that brings gloom and doom to scientists.
"We've been watching it all summer," said British Antarctic Survey glaciologist David Vaughan, "waiting for it to go, and bang -- now it's gone."
Data from NASA, the University of Colorado's (CU) National Snow and Ice Data Center, and other research organizations -- encompassing both Antartica and the Arctic -- is about as damning as can be to those who prefer to bury their heads in the snow."What we're seeing," Walt Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at CU, said of the situation in the Arctic,
"is that more and more, in recent years, that ice cover is getting thinner and thinner, and really becoming dominated by the thinner, younger ice that has grown just since the previous summer, instead of the older, thicker ice that has been around for several years.... But the last couple of years, particularly, we've seen a real steep drop off in the older ice, ice that's older than two years old, that used to cover 30 per cent of the Arctic Ocean, the total ice at the end of winter. And even as late as 2006, it covered about 20 per cent, and now we're down below 10 per cent."
Meier said the pole "has already lost over one-third of our summer ice cover in the Arctic from where we used to be in the '80's and '90's, so there's already impacts. We don't have to wait for the sea ice to disappear in the summer before we experience impacts. We're already there."
In turn, the scientists say the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 1950s.
"With the collapse of an ice bridge that holds in place the Wilkins Ice Shelf," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "we are reminded that global warming has already had enormous affects on our planet and we have no time to lose in tackling this crisis."
"Well," said Steve Campbell from Greenpeace, "if the collapse of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in the last few days is not a huge wake-up call for our political leaders at a global level, I really don't know what is. Time for the international community to bite the bullet and come to the table in international climate negotiations, and make sure that particularly developed countries agree to deep emissions reductions, so we can start to really help to solve the climate crisis at the global level."
Conservatives, of course, tend to be all but immune to inconvenient data of climate change, citing marginal studies and anecdotal evidence scientifically proven by looking out your bedroom window. The difference now is not just the overwhelming data and the word of eminent scientists but the satellite video and computer renderings in your face of what's going down. Like watching a baby in the womb, the enhanced views visible in time-lapse photography render the skeptic all but defenseless, left to rely on rigor-mortis rhetoric and blowhard bluster in the face of fact after fact from those who actually know jack.
The upcoming Copenhagen will replace Kyoto as a climatological cuss word upon the lips of the Right: the conference will confuse the imminence of visible data and video evidence with the emotion of plain old geopolitics. If ice falling into the ocean represents a great hand for environmentalists, then the numb and number still have two aces in the hole -- the unwillingness of India and China to change a damn thing. Why should the United States bother to save the world, free or not, when these brutish civilizations seek to destroy it?
For the Right, the great irony here is that by foisting the Kyoto-Copenhagen burden on India and China, they are all but acknowledging the validity of the climate change arguments they were loathe to embrace. If they keep it up, there's nothing to keep conservatives from falling through the ice.
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