Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Future Intercourse of Mankind

In a column titled "The Polar Bears Are All Right," Michael Goldfarb argues that although Arctic ice has been melting, it's also increased very slightly this winter, which may not impress climatologists much, but what the hell do they know?

"Nobody has much idea of anything," Richard Lindzen points out, while sawing earnestly at the branch to which he's clinging. Some people say we'll see ice-free Arctic summers in a few years; others say it'll take decades. As for Lindzen, he's not so sure; the world is a labyrinth and a continued dark conceit. But still, the ice does seem to be melting, possibly. Goldfarb will grant you that.

Which to any layman will raise an obvious question: So what?
We don't know exactly what this'll do to that special portion of the climate that hangs above our blessed land like the ceiling of a chapel; the sensible thing, therefore, is to assume that it's going to make us happier, richer, more powerful.

The polar bears may not be all right, after all. But what have they done for you lately? If they were good it would be seen, as Donne says: good is as visible as green.

One thing we're gonna do is put the goddamn Eskimos to work. The way it stands now, Nanook catches a seal, and maybe his dumpy wives and his squalling brats eat for a week or two. What do you get out of it? Nothing, that's what. But teach him to work on an oil rig, and he's working for the benefit of you and me and all mankind:
The Inuit might find better work in the oil and gas sector, as high energy prices and melting ice make the Arctic an increasingly attractive area for exploration.
Things are so very uncertain, you understand. An ice-free Arctic may cause problems, or it may not. But in the meantime, there's oil to be had, and the outcome of that is certain: Comfort, convenience, the rosy glow of contentment on the faces of your golden-haired moppets.

Lindzen says polar bears are increasing in number. How could a population increase, and yet be threatened? It just doesn't add up. Besides, "they're not worried; they can swim a hundred kilometers." Which, in the Arctic, is a very long way indeed. It's almost the distance from Kotlik to Unalakleet.

And mark this: an economist of Goldfarb's acquaintance has challenged our hidebound assumptions about polar bears and ice and stuff. He observes that some animals have thrived in warmer climates, even as you and I. Why shouldn't polar bears? On the other hand, and this can't be overemphasized, so what if they don't?
Can a polar bear's happiness really be allowed to impede the future intercourse of mankind and the commerce of distant nations?
Of course not. What on earth could?

(Photo by Victoria Arocho/Associated Press.)


Anonymous said...

These 'people' need be left on an ice floe.

Buckeye, Dealer of Rare Coins

ellroon said...

Stupid bears. They eat people.

And if they were all gone, we'd not have to worry about them drowning because the ice sheets were melting, right? So get rid of the bears and we'll have no more worries!

Anthony McCarthy said...

Is he the same Michael Goldfarb who worked at NPR?

Phila said...

I think so. I know he was at Time, at one point.