08/07/2011 04:11 pm ET Updated Oct 07, 2011

All Polar Bears Gone, Overnight

Temperatures are rising and doing so at increasingly faster rates.

Oceans are acidifying and doing so at increasingly faster rates.

We are literally slowing down the rotation of the globe and doing so at an increasingly faster rate.*

All are clearly linked to global warming, yet none of them are quite strong enough to spur us into action. What will it take to make that happen?

Change observable over years or decades apparently won't do, and (fortunately) the climate isn't changing over days or weeks.

But perhaps a dramatic yet not quite catastrophic event could act as a wake-up call? I'm at a loss to come up with examples that fit into that category.

Hurricanes don't. Katrina was catastrophic but apparently not dramatic enough (and, of course, no single hurricane can be linked to global warming anyway, although it's clear that their intensity goes up on a warming planet). Record droughts, floods and other catastrophes don't seem to convince the unconvinceable either, largely for the same reasons.

Good old competition doesn't. Brussels, Beijing, Brasilia and others are leaving Washington in the dust with little in response.

We have already established that melting poles and glaciers attract little attention. They don't tend to melt overnight. And if they did, we would have much bigger problems than the political stalemate.

One possible candidate: a mass die-off of most polar bears.

Catastrophic? For Arctic fauna, yes; for the planet, debatable. Dramatic? Here's hoping.
* Think ice skater, whose spinning speed increases as she pulls her arms closer and slows down as she extends her arms. The same happens to the planet: As polar ice melts, water distributes to the equator, expanding the planet's bulge and slowing its rotation -- by fractions of a second, but amazingly it is already measurable. And we know it's happening at an increasing rate.

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