January 10, 2010
Lessons to Be Learned in the Climate Alarm ZoneBy Marc Sheppard
When the SyFy channel unlocked the door to this year’s annual New Year’s Day marathon with the key to imagination, my two teenage sons finally accepted the invitation to accompany me inside. So you can imagine how the World Wildlife Fund’s green decision to spin their sci-fi/fantasy/horror global warming yarns during commercial breaks of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy/horror yarns made me see red...until, that is, I recognized the teaching moment presented by crossing over from the Twilight Zone’s land of both shadow and substance to the equally fantastic Climate Alarm Zone.
Submitted for your perusal: The time – a frost-nipped and early Friday afternoon on the first day of the first month of the first year of the new decade. The place -- a quintessential vinyl-clad house set back obliquely on an icy-tree-lined suburban street, whose doors open invitingly to sights cast from a glowing High-Def television set, the scent of a split cedar log smoldering in a brick fireplace, and the sounds of frozen-rain pelting a shingled roof, assuaging any thought of outdoor activity.
Inside, my boys had just witnessed a terrifyingly young Billy Mumy wishing his tortured victims away to the cornfield for the very first time. And then the shocking twist-ending of Donna Douglas’s eleventh and final facial surgery in her desperate struggle to look “like everybody else.” And Telly Savalas discovering how dead-wrong he was to pay the words "My name is Talky Tina, and I'm going to kill you," spoken by his step-daughter’s new doll, no particular heed.
Now we three sat thoroughly transfixed by William Shatner’s classic, nightmarish overacting at 20,000 feet. Then -- suddenly -- the TV faded to black, only to awaken with images [Video] intended to be much more horrific than the gremlin-like creature we just watched traipsing along an airplane wing. It was a mother polar bear and her adorable young cub apparently trapped cruelly and hopelessly on a scrap of floating ice.
Expecting another familiar and hauntingly poetic staccato voice-over from TZ host Rod Serling, we were surprised to instead hear that of WWF spokesman and actor Noah Wyle identifying the cause of the terrified creatures’ plight:
And, of course, the cause of the cause:
Quickly swallowing his popcorn to clear a path for his words, my youngest asked how climate change could possibly be killing polar bears. After all, he insisted, how can ice be melting way up north when we’ve been slipping and sliding on it down here for months?
Naturally, I did my best to explain that while the media tout every heat wave as proof of global warming yet ignore the possible global cooling portended by record cold-snaps, extreme short-term weather patterns in either direction are not indicative of long-term climate changes. And for my efforts, I received a confused frown from one son, and a reminder from the other that we’d shoveled even more global warming off the driveway this winter than we had during last year’s brutal snow season.
And so we had. In fact, the entire northern hemisphere has been hammered by unprecedented arctic cold and record snowfall, which have killed dozens in India and Poland. Seoul, South Korea was just hit with its heaviest snowfall since records began in 1937. The severe snow we’ve experienced in the northeast broke records in Vermont, and sustained sub-freezing temperatures still threaten the Florida orange crop. Throughout much of the U.S, temperatures have been between 15 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit below normal, and Northern Plains residents have been warned to prepare for lethally cold temperatures reaching minus 22 degrees.
But before I could respond, we were drawn to the sight and sound of the young cub desperately following its mother into the icy water, apparently swimming toward a chilling, watery grave, as both the heart-wrenching music and the picture faded and dissolved into the image of Wyle himself, who continued: [my emphasis]
Four young eyes retrained their gaze my way and asked without a word: Polar bears extinct in our lifetime?
Fortunately, there was an adult in the room to explain to his own cubs that the money-grabbing “Public Service Announcement” they had just watched was no less fantasy than any of the Twilight Zone episodes it had interrupted. But while TZ’s dramas have endured the test of time by stretching the boundaries of the imagination on many levels, this WWF concoction instead stretched those of the truth on many levels.
For starters, it blamed the struggle of the bears on melting arctic ice, which has actually been recovering quite nicely from its September 2007 low as global temperatures continue their recent decline. But even if temperatures were still on the rise and ice were continuing to melt, as suggested by this shameless PSA, the bears would be just fine, kids.
You see, dear children, the Earth’s temperature has naturally wavered between periods of hot and cold throughout its history. And in the 130,000 years that polar bears have been around, they’ve managed to adapt through many periods much warmer than the one that ended last century. Just ask evolutionary biologist Susan Crockford, who reminded us that several of those warmer periods took place over the past 10,000 years -- in fact, things were quite a bit hotter just a thousand years ago than they’ve been since, which was long before your mother drove her SUV off the lot. Crockford concluded that
And the arithmetic certainly bears out her position. Populations have actually increased fivefold since restrictions were imposed to stop the overhunting that resulted in a low of 5,000 bears in the 1950’s. And experts like biologist Dr. Mitchell Taylor, who has been researching polar bears in Canada and around the Arctic Circle for thirty years, tell us that while Alaska's polar bear population is stable, eleven of thirteen Canadian populations are either stable or actually increasing in number. And even the decline in the other two is more likely due to food competition than Arctic warming. Adds Dr. Taylor:
But above all, kids, consider if you will: Even if temperatures were still rising – which they’re not -- and the resultant melting ice endangered animals – which it wouldn’t – there is absolutely no action the WWF or anyone else might take to stop it...no matter how much money people send them, which is the real action they seek us to take. The truth is that scientists are quite divided over what does and does not affect the climate. While some believe that mankind’s carbon emissions contribute to a “greenhouse effect” which heats the planet by trapping its outgoing infrared radiation, others consider such contributions insignificant or even non-existent. These are the believers in natural variations such as those of solar irradiation, ocean currents, and cloud formation as drivers of our climate.
In other words -- man’s ability to affect temperatures in either direction is a theory at best and a hoax at worst. Indeed, man-made global warming exists no less in what Serling described as the “middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition” that “lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge” than do any of the stories we’ve watched him introduce.
As though oddly on cue, on came one of Serling’s own fables set in a future Earth apparently facing real runaway global warming. The 1961 episode The Midnight Sun tells the tale of a planet handed an unjust death sentence when unknown natural forces suddenly send it spiraling toward the Sun. The effects of the rising temperatures on the doomed characters made for quite the harrowing drama, as did the story’s not-atypical surprise and herein bitingly apropos ending.
But in reality, cautionary tales of a planet overheated by a corrupted economy are no less denizens of the wondrous land of imagination than those blaming a corrupted orbit. And horror stories of man’s progress leading to polar bear extinctions, cities under water, warm-weather insects devouring forests, or an impending planetary inferno foretell no more genuine earthly danger than one of aliens from another world metamorphosing mankind from “the ruler[s] of a planet to an ingredient in someone's soup.” We are neither that strong in our consequence, nor that weak in our resolve.
The simple truth is that despite myriad challenges to its supporting science, man-made global warming has become the favorite political tool of those who would control our lives by regulating what and how often we drive, how much energy we are allowed to consume, and even what we can and cannot eat.
So when classmates, politicians, pundits, and even teachers preach that for civilization to survive, we short-term passengers aboard this stone that floats through space must halt all activities contributing to raising levels of carbon dioxide lest we overheat our ride, take it with a grain of salt -- not a shovelful of coal. Treat all fairy tales in which the evil Mr. Carbon casts lovable polar bears into oblivion likewise.
And forever seek to separate the shadow from the substance -- the things from the ideas -- through the sieve that is knowledge. And be prepared to dig deeply beneath the green veneer. But should you one day find yourself in search of what has become known as “scientific consensus” on the subject in the parlance of the times, it’s a safe bet that you won’t find it in any readily-accessible tomes of science.
Look for it instead filed under 'F' for ‘Fantasy’...in the Climate Alarm Zone.