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Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

There is an island in the Caribbean, off the coast of Colombia, where palm trees sway in warm breezes and waves lap the sandy beach. The sea is the color of a blue gemstone, and you can see 30 feet to the bottom. All is idyllic, except that the sea and its eternal waves hold a sorry future for the island and its people.

The San Blas Islands are small and low-lying. Much of this scenic archipelago is no more than a meter above sea level. The future will not be kind to these islands. They will be among the first to go as rising oceans take back what the sea surrendered to the land millennia ago.

The San Blas Islands are losing ground, but they’re still solid land. Not so for New Moore Island in the Sunderbans, in the Bay of Bengal. According to a recent news report: “For nearly 30 years, India and Bangladesh have argued over control of a tiny rock island. Now, rising sea levels have resolved the dispute for them: the island’s gone.” A neighboring island, Lohachara, was submerged in 1996, forcing inhabitants to move to the mainland. Almost half of another island, Ghoramara, is reported to be underwater. At least 10 other islands in the area are at risk of flooding.

Residents of these islands are being relocated to the mainland, which is a stop-gap measure since the coastal mainland of Bangladesh is destined to follow the watery passage of the Sunderbans. Projections are that 18 percent of this impoverished country’s coastal regions will be flooded by 2050, and that 20 million people will be displaced.

Vanishing real estate is a sign of the times. This despite naysayers to climate change who continue to ignore the impending flood. One day, ignorance and denial will melt away under overwhelming evidence. Until then, climate change, like the Ptolemaic view of Earth as the center of the universe, will defy sane, logical reasoning and empirical evidence.

It is a geographical fact that ice caps are melting. Still, only 57 percent of Americans believe in climate change. Their denial points to an enormous philosophical and cultural rift with science and a changing world.

Many millions resist the knowledge that man has influenced a shift in climate that will inundate lowlands around the world, setting off vast migrations of climate refugees. They refuse to consider that their actions – or anybody else’s – have anything to do with weather patterns and climatic cycles. They denounce the notion that humans today are responsible or accountable. Lifestyle adjustments to shift energy use, material consumption, farming practices, population growth, and land conservation are not even negotiable.

Such blind resistance belies not only climate science but an acceptance of visible cause and effect. Exhaust spewing from more than 680 million autos worldwide is seen as irrelevant to the parchment thin atmosphere that encircles the earth. The burning of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution, from whence countless tons of emissions have been spewed into the atmosphere, is ruled inconsequential. This is like dying from lung cancer while absently enjoying a cigarette. The victim stubbornly rejects cause and effect.

Science will ultimately furnish irrefutable proof of climate change and man’s role in it, but even then a shrill minority will claim fraud. History reveals the glacial pace of man’s intellectual grasp of nature, even in the face of vanishing real estate.

Naysayers base their illogic on exemptionalism, the notion that man stands above natural laws as a supreme being who is exempt from those laws. Under such belief, human agency is unassailable, far above correction or limits or moral and ethical guidance. Man is master. Nature is servant. Praise God!

There may very well have been people in the Sunderbans who felt this way, people who stood on the shore and watched with dismay as the sea rose up to their ankles, then to their knees. Twenty million people will one day face the rising tide, and it won’t be nature they blame, or nature to which they appeal.


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