Friday, March 18, 2005

The Simpsons and Global Warming

In a recent episode of the Simpsons, the school went on a field trip to see Springfield Glacier. When they got there, it was melted. Nothing remained but a small piece floating ice. Lisa kept insisting that global warming was responsible but the rangers ignored her.

They had good reason.

The same thing happened in real life.

The snows have melted on Mount Kilimanjaro. The British newspaper the Guardian pictured front page photos of the denuded mountain just in time for a meeting of the G8.

As explained by the Scotsman, this has nothing to do with global warming. Mt. Kilimanjaro is so high that the top is always below zero.

What has changed is the surrounding weather. Around the mid-19th century the weather suddenly got drier. The vegetation changed and lakes dried up. This means that there is no new snow falling.

The other factor is that this is an active volcano. Parts of it are hot. Hot enough to melt a glacier.
What is the moral of this tale? It is not to ignore climate change, which is hardwired into the nature of things. There has always been climate change, always will be: witness the waxing and waning of Kilimanjaro. Certainly, we should place climate change high on our policy agendas: flood-proofing our towns and being sensible about unnecessary emissions of climate-changing gases.

But the world is not going to end tomorrow and hysterically pretending that it is becomes the enemy of progress. I did actually enjoy the BBC drama-documentary on the Yellowstone super-volcano, but, if you listened carefully enough, the next one may not happen for around 60,000 years. So I doubt if it is worth worrying about - except as a way of filling prime-time television schedules.

If we stop pretending the world is going to end (except on the big screen or your television), then we can make sensible choices. First, it might be cheaper and faster to give the Tanzanians clean water, decent education and access to our markets as a way of reducing their impact on the environment, rather than beggaring the British economy with red tape and taxes to reduce emissions that aren’t the true cause of making Kilimanjaro bald.

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