Run for the Border

I live 40 miles from the Canadian border. If I’m given the right incentive, I can walk from my house to Canada. But what’s sufficient incentive? What if a hike to the border could save my life and the lives of my friends and family? That would be sufficient incentive.

Let’s raise the stakes. Let’s say I have to walk from my house to the border in ten hours. That’s four miles an hour, a brisk pace, sustained for a long period, but it’s doable. Let’s say my task is made easier in that I get to walk along a paved road from here to there: Route 7, from the corner of my street right up to “Welcome Center Road” at the border.

To make my task easier, let’s say I make the walk tomorrow, August 29th. The forecast calls for clear skies and temperatures in the high seventies. A perfect day for a walk. I’ll start at noon and to save everyone’s life, I have to be at the border by 10 p.m. Better get a good night’s sleep and eat a hearty breakfast. There’s so much riding on this.

So, noon comes and I set off along Route 7 at my brisk four-mile-an-hour pace. The first two hours pass and I’ve covered eight miles. There’s only one problem. I walked the wrong way. Instead of walking north, toward Canada, I walked south, toward Shelburne.

I’ve wasted two of my hours and now I have to cover 48 miles in eight hours. If I turn around now, I must make six miles an hour for eight hours straight or terrible things will ensue. I can do this, I know I can. I’ll punish my body to get it done because the stakes are so high and I’ll curse myself with every step of those 48 miles for being so stupid as to walk the wrong way for two hours and put my life and the lives of those I love in even greater peril than they were before

This is, of course, a metaphor. Two years ago, James Hansen, the guy who knows more about global warming than anyone else on Earth, said we have ten years to avoid the most catastrophic effects of global warming. In July 2006, Dr. Hansen wrote, “we have at most ten years—not ten years to decide upon action, but ten years to alter fundamentally the trajectory of global greenhouse emissions.” (You can see the full article here.)

Two years on, we’ve been walking in the wrong direction. Even if we elect a new president and Congress that champ at the bit to fight global warming, their most energetic efforts will not begin to gain traction until next summer. That will leave us seven years. Returning to the metaphor, if I spend two hours walking the wrong way and one hour deciding to not walk the wrong way, that leaves me seven hours to cover 48 miles – that’s a pace of nearly seven miles and hour. So now, I’m not walking; I’m running. I’m not as young as I was, but I can cover a mile in less than ten minutes. I can’t do it 48 times in a row.

Of course, we’re not running to Canada, but the kind of social and economic dislocations we will have to undergo will make us wish we were. The alternatives are even less appealing.

Two other things: As I type this, there are two sugar maples outside my window. One has been slowly dying for the last two years. Climate scientists have said the sugar maple’s range will move north with global warming. I can’t say global warming is killing one of my trees, but I won’t replace it with another sugar maple.

Finally, I’m watching Tropical Storm Gustav via the web. Tropical Storm Gustav – for now. It’s moving toward the warm Gulf of Mexico, where it’s likely to pick up moisture and speed. Gustav’s on my mind for the obvious reason, but also because August 29th, the day of the do-or-die hike to Canada in my metaphor, is also the third anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina.

© Mark Floegel, 2008

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *