The Grandkids

It’s mid-September and scientists are floating around the Arctic, something far easier to do this year than ever before.  Other scientists are far away, peering at satellite photos and maps.  They’re all doing the same thing: trying to gauge the minimum extent of the north polar icecap.

This is the week every year when the northern icecap tends to reach its minimum for the year, before cold temperatures cause the ice to reform.  (The maximum usually comes in April or May, just as things are beginning to warm.)

We know 2012 will be a record year, because the old record, set in 2007, was broken last month.  It was no surprise that the ice minimum is getting smaller, it IS a surprise that the record was broken with three weeks left in the melting season. This year’s icecap will be about one-third smaller than the 2007 record.  The northern icecap minimum is now around four million square kilometers.  Thirty years ago, the minimum was eight million square kilometers.  For years, ice scientists have been predicting that the Arctic may be ice-free in the summer by 2035.  Now they think it’s likely to happen before 2020 and may happen as soon as 2015.

The hell of it is, this was not a particularly warm summer in the Arctic.  If we’d had last year’s weather on this year’s ice, we might have lost another million square kilometers.  What does it mean for people in the Northern Hemisphere?  Immediately, we can expect more wacky weather.  The polar region mediates the jet stream, which if it flows south brings us a cold winter.  If it flows north, it brings a mild – or even warm – winter, like last year.  What’s going to happen this year?  Hard to say, we’re in uncharted territory.  One thing is certain: if we get cold weather and blizzards in the next six months and the boobs on Fox tee vee start braying about climate change being a hoax, don’t listen.  Weather is not climate and climate change will bring us periods of intense cold before eventually frying the veneer off what we like to think of as civilization.

If  “climate change is a hoax” is a less-than-enlightened chant on the right, it also puts me in mind of a similar sentiment from the left during the eight years of the Bush-Cheney administration.  Although both men were from the oil industry, then-Vice President Dick Cheney was seen (with good reason) as the principle bad guy in the administration and lefties used to say, “I know Dick Cheney’s evil and greedy, but doesn’t he care about his grandchildren?”

I don’t claim to know Mr. Cheney’s mind (a frightening proposition), but I’ll submit that yes, he does care about his grandchildren – in his own fashion.  Mr. Cheney received daily security briefings when he was vice president.  We know the national security agencies have long been concerned about climate change as a trigger for political instability around the globe, if nothing else.   Whatever else he might be accused of, no one ever said Dick Cheney was stupid.  So why would a smart man, with the best information, be willing to expose his grandchildren to the effects of climate change?

Here’s the way I think he sees it: not even the power behind the throne of the POTUS has enough clout to take on the fossil fuel industries.  (That cynical view seems about right for Mr. C.)  Given that, who will be affected first and who will be affected last?  Anyone who connects to the news media knows who has already been affected: poor people, especially those in the global south.  (Note that I didn’t type “will be affected,” but “has already been affected.”  Think Darfur.  Although there are political, ethnic and racial angles, the instability in the Sahel is a direct cause of climate change.   We’ll never see “pure” climate change effects; it will always come bundled with the rest of humanity’s sins.)

So if anyone of the generation of Dick Cheney’s grandchildren are going to have a life that in any way resembles the comfort and security so many Americans take for granted, s/he’d better be a) rich and b) powerful.  Mr. Cheney, warped grandpa that he is, is trying to provide those things in his own manner.

Well, what about the children of his grandchildren or their children?  Mr. Cheney won’t be around long enough to know them.  He never struck me as a seventh generation kind of guy anyhow.

© Mark Floegel, 2012

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