10/13/2014 08:37 am ET Updated Dec 13, 2014

Walrusgrams and Fracklands: Messages From Another Planet


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Think of it as a Walrusgram written on the sand of a northwest Alaskan beach and sent to the planet. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Arctic marine mammal aerial survey noticed them first, those 35,000 walruses that had come ashore in unheard of numbers because their usual sea ice has simply melted away. The photos are dramatic. You couldn't ask for a clearer message from a species that normally doesn't write out its thoughts on the subject of our changing, warming planet.

For those who prefer their science not from the walrus's mouth (so to speak), there has been equally relevant news on the same subject lately from another species. Think of them as scientists clambering ashore from a wounded world. Only weeks ago, it was reported that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere had reached record levels in 2013 and, perhaps even more unsettlingly, that oceans and terrestrial plant life, both major "carbon sinks," were absorbing less CO2 than in the past. Now, we have news that the oceans have actually been warming significantly faster than anyone previously imagined. The latest figures indicate that "the upper 2,300 feet of the Southern Hemisphere's oceans may have warmed twice as quickly after 1970 than had previously been thought... [and that] the upper levels of the planet's oceans -- those of the northern and southern hemispheres combined -- had been warming during several decades prior to 2005 at rates that were 24 to 58 percent faster than had previously been realized."

None of this is good news, of course, not if you have any sort of investment in future generations living on a planet anywhere near as hospitable as the one we've been on for so long. But talk about dissociation. While those walruses were climbing out of the water and the scientists were reporting their latest grim numbers, in the American heartland thousands of workers shaken loose from other worlds have been heading for boom times in North Dakota and elsewhere in our fracklands. There, the exploitation of previously unrecoverable oil shale and natural gas deposits via hydro-fracking has pundits bragging about this country as "Saudi America" and the president aggressively planning to make "the oil weapon" a central feature in American foreign policy.

Between the two worlds, the one producing ever more fossil fuels amid a let-the-good-times-roll spirit of triumphalism and the one slowly melting down under the impact of what those fossil fuels release into the atmosphere, there sometimes seems no connection at all. Clear as the link may be, each of these worlds often might as well be located on a different planet.

TomDispatch's Laura Gottesdiener had the rare urge to land on that other planet, the one most of us never experience that produces fossil fuels with such exuberance, and see just what we're all missing. Check out her vivid report, "A Trip to Kuwait (on the Prairie)," from the front lines of fossil-fuel extraction and welcome to Saudi America!