Mowing beats shoveling — so bring on global warming

Voices Of The Clarion

Posted: Sunday, January 08, 2006

Don’t tell me there’s no such thing as global warming. My lawn is green. Another few days of this heat wave and I’ll be firing up the mower.

Weird, isn’t it? Here we are at the beginning of January and many Kenai Peninsula ski trails are muddy tracks, ice skaters have been driven to indoor rinks and Alyeska can’t give away lift tickets.

It’s been getting this way for several winters now. A few Januarys ago, I drove out to the local golf course on East End Road outside Homer to photograph four hardy duffers playing a round. There wasn’t a snowflake in sight. As I remember it, the weather was warm with only a slight overcast. There hadn’t been any snow for some time.

This season started out with all the promise of a thoroughly white winter. Cross-country buffs were waxing like mad. You could tell who they were — the ones with that annoying pink-cheeked glow and slightly musty odor of sweat-soaked wool that never fails to register in my subconscious that unsubtle challenge: “I’m healthy! What about you?”

No, I’m not. But thanks for reminding me that I jockey a desk for a living.

Unless I’m downhill skiing — which, if you do it right and allow gravity to work, involves very little serious energy expenditure — I’m getting my winter exercise on the basketball court. Unfortunately, that’s now off limits do to a painful condition called plantar fasciitis. Look it up. It’s a “heel” of an injury that essentially indicates I’m too fat, to stiff, and too old for the sport.

Truth is, it’s time to go back to the pool and start turning laps. Boring, I know, but something I can do fairly well and it would keep me in shape.

But I digress.

If this climate trend continues, the arctic is going to be an entirely different place by the time my teenage daughter’s future children are bearing children. By then, America’s Bread Basket will have migrated into Canada, which makes me wonder whether I should begin investing in wheat fields in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan and launch a marketing campaign for Yukon Yams.

I hope someone out there is sampling the DNA of creatures conditioned to Arctic Ocean ice fields, like polar bears, because they may be on the way out. Preserving the material necessary to reintroduce extinct species sometime in the future is a worthwhile endeavor, especially considering we’re probably partly to blame for the climate change in the first place.

Conventional wisdom has it that the Industrial Revolution is a root cause, with its fossil fuel-burning factories, and later automobiles, pumping huge quantities of heat-trapping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. While that may all be true, placing blame for climate change on human behavior may have to start a lot further back than the mid-18th Century. Try eight millennia.

According to an intriguing article by William F. Ruddiman in the March 2005 issue of Scientific American, there is new evidence that carbon dioxide concentrations began rising 8,000 years ago, when “natural trends indicate they should have been dropping.” Methane levels, another greenhouse gas, began rising about 5,000 years ago, Ruddiman wrote.

Why? Farmers!

The expansive growth of agrarian societies as humans got ever more civilized led to rapid increases greenhouse gas emissions, a factor that has been linked to the warmer average temperatures (3 to 4 degrees Celsius) seen in North America and Europe today. Absent widespread farming in ancient times and not only would modern agriculture be a lot more difficult, but parts of the northern hemisphere might well be in the grips of an ice age, according to the article.

Whatever the cause, major climate change tends to happen over extended periods, and reversing a trend — say by seriously reducing greenhouse gas emissions — could take decades, perhaps centuries, if it’s possible at all.

So I say that if the climate’s going to change anyway, let’s start playing it to our advantage. We could sell ice cap in a bottle. OK, water, but put a fancy blue-and-white iceberg on the label and Outsiders will buy it by the boxload. No? Consider packaged moose nuggets. Need I say more? At least they could consume melted ice cap.

Give those bison herds scattered around Alaska unfettered access to the open range. They’re the same subspecies that once roamed the American West — a breed so popular they named it thrice, “Bison bison bison,” according to the Alaska Science Forum. Imaging the tourist attraction value of subarctic buffalo herds as far as the eye can see.

Invest in real estate. There’s going to be a housing boom across Alaska when folks living in Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana start looking north for escape from the heat. Sure, they’ll swear they’re only visiting relatives already here, but you know they’ll stay.

OK, perhaps global warming isn’t such a laughing matter. But it is hard not to enjoy some of its local benefits — like warmer, drier summers when sunny days stretch into sunny weeks. As I remember it, anyway, summers on Kachemak Bay 20 years ago were a lot wetter.

And personally, the older I get, the less I like winter’s buried driveways and glaciated streets. For all I care, it could rain from November to April. Global warming? Bring it on. I’ll cut the grass if I have to.

Hal Spence is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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