Colson: On Arctic ice and white-male death rates
November 12, 2015
Departing from my usual cheerful weekly appraisals of Republican-party tomfoolery, nasty corporate hijinks and other uplifting topics, I decided this week to write about "The End of the World" as it was described in a recent magazine article.
The article is in the current edition of The Nation, a 150-year old progressive, leftist publication that has managed to stay alive in spite of this country's recent and painful slide to the right side of the political spectrum.
Written by Roy Scranton (he also wrote a book, "Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization," check it out), it is about an "eco-tour" of the Arctic in a ship named the MS Ocean Endeavor, which sailed from a port in Greenland along a twisted course that led past Ellesmere Island, Baffin Bay, Prince of Wales Island and other far-northern cool spots where the sea-ice and glaciers are melting so fast that some scientists expect the Arctic to be ice-free by 2030.
That's right, by 2030.
That's 15 years from now.
That's the impact of global warming, shorn of the foolish images of doubting politicians clinging to denials and fantasies born of wishful thinking.
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The tour was part of a growing phenomenon in tourism; traveling to far-flung reaches to catch a glimpse (and a photo) of something that is rapidly disappearing, whether it's wildlife or glaciers.
It's called adventure tourism, but what it really is is apocalyptic tourism — traveling to the outer reaches of civilization to see, firsthand, the global destruction that is being wrought by civilization in its pell-mell gallop of "progress."
Scranton, a writer specializing in such apocalyptic screeds, describes being inside a hollowed-out section of the western Greenland ice sheet, listening to the constant drip, drip, drip of glacial melting and realizing that it cannot be stopped.
He writes about Inuit elders who dispute the contention of scientists that the polar bear is threatened with extinction, who declare that the numbers of the bears are actually growing and give evidence of seeing more bears than ever before.
Scranton then points out that it may simply be that the tribes are seeing more bears because the bears' natural habitat — the sea ice — is disappearing and forcing the bears inland, where they come into increasing contact with humans. We can imagine how that will work out, can't we?
Scranton remarks on the irony of traveling with a bunch of aging, well-off, mostly white tourists on a boat that burns perhaps 20 tons of fuel a day, thereby adding to the carbon load of the atmosphere that is causing global warming to accelerate, and thereby contributing to the very circumstances that threaten the Arctic ice and brought the tourists onto the boat in the first place.
And he writes about the "war of Man — white men — against nature," a war that has gone on since the white marauders of Europe started roaming the world in ships and realized there were numerous "lesser" races they could subjugate and whose lands the white invaders could plunder with impunity.
Scranton's particular target for condemnation in this passage was the ill-fated Franklin Expedition, in which Sir John Franklin of England tried to find the fabled Northwest Passage and perished in a remarkably vibrant display of hubris marked by cannibalism when his ships got stuck in the sea ice.
It turned out, in contrast to the noble tales of a stout-hearted crew struggling valiantly against nature and each other, what really did in the crews of the two ships was lead poisoning from the mountain of canned goods Sir John had brought along.
The article, instructive as it was about a man's first-hand look at the effects of industry and human population growth on the natural environment, also caused me to wonder about the impact of white men on the world, and the effects of that impact on the white men themselves.
I read a story in the New York Times recently lamenting the increasing death rates among white American males, largely due to drug addiction and suicide, compared to falling death rates among men in other countries and among men of color in the U.S.
Could it be that, somewhere in the deepest, darkest recesses of the average white male's brain, we realize the harm we, as a group, have done to the world over the course of a couple of centuries?
Could it be that we, white American males, are feeling a little guilty about our rapacious behavior, which has manifested itself increasingly since the industrial revolution, and we are starting to worry if we're bad for the planet's health and well-being?
For most of our existence as a species, you know, humans weren't able to see beyond the horizon or tomorrow morning as we went about our daily lives. Now, we can see farther, and the view is not promising.
It's enough to drive a (white) man to drink.
Maybe it has done that, and worse.
Read all about it.