Here are some words you really don’t ever want to see put together in a single sentence:
“Arctic Melt Unnerves the Experts”
They go particularly unlooked for as a newspaper headline, which is how they unfortunately presented themselves to me during yesterday’s ritual morning rummage through the New York Times, that laughably absurd exercise in ambulatory unconsciousness in which my desperately sleep-impaired visual cortex sees all the pretty pictures and fun little words swimming around on the page but can make zero sense of them until I fill the 5-gallon sap bucket that passes for my coffee mug full of high-test fair-trade shade-grown organic java and slam its contents into my bloodstream like a howling freight train from Stimulant Hell that makes my nerve endings scream for mercy like the chemically electrified victims of hyper-caffeination they’ve quite thankfully suddenly become.
But you know, you see a headline like that and suddenly you don’t need your body-weight in Costa Rican Reserve to get within a striking distance of competent mental functioning. No sir. Words like that all put together in a neat little row are like a defibrillator for your head. Clear! Gzzzzzt! Good morning, overheated world…
“Arctic Melt.” Well, gee. Gosh. Hello. That’s sort of troubling. Wouldn’t you say? Don’t you think? “Arctic,” after all, is Human for “profound cold beyond all imagining punctuated by snow and wind and ice and scary frigid blue glacial chunks the size of small South American countries all forever frozen like that ten year-old popsicle of a now indeterminate flavor sitting in the bottom of your freezer pretending it’s some disturbingly mummified member of the Franklin Expedition. And what ever happened to those guys anyway?” The Arctic happened to them, that’s what. An unholy ice cube of permanently cryogenic biblical proportions and then some so deep and dark and deathly frostbitten at all times that it swallowed up entire fleets of mighty ships sent to find (ha!) an ice-free passage to the Pacific that actually hadn’t existed for a least a thousand centuries.
Until this year, that is. When lo, it opened up like a big white lotus flower floating on a suddenly no longer frozen sea. And apparently the polar bears aren’t the only ones quite completely freaked out by the inexplicable appearance of water where there used to be an eternal blanket of never-ending ice thick enough to park a continent on.
No. The experts are unnerved as well. And quite frankly that’s a little unnerving. Because the experts are the Ones Who Know. Only now they don’t. At all. They’re sitting there just as wide-eyed as the rest of us are upon finding out that the mythical Northwest Passage isn’t nearly as mythical as it used to be. Beats us, they say scratching their heads and looking quizzically and very much confusedly at their gorgeous full-colored graphs and futuristic satellite photos that could see the hair on the head of a badly frightened sea lion searching frantically for an ice floe. Nope, they say. Never saw it coming. Quite the surprise, really.
Which is the thing to take home from that little headline. The thing to wrap up in purple velveteen, tie with a nice raffia bow, carry to the gate, and present to Momma on the occasion of her much anticipated release from the federal penal system. The experts are unnerved.
And so am I. Because Unnerved Experts are the official indicator that we have entered wholly uncharted territory. That every day is about to become a who-knows-what adventure and not in a good way that comes with its own crumpled bag full of souvenir snow globes and goofy foam rubber lobster claws and the kids napping in the back of the jalopy as you pull over for some Tums at the truck stop before hitting the beach because those boysenberry pancakes you woke up to at HoJos are coming back to haunt like the gastrointestinal ghost of breakfast past. No. Unnerved Experts are the sign that we need to get real serious real fast. They are the commercial break that says “we’ll be right back with more from the Four Horsemen…”
If there was ever a case to be made for Precaution, this is it. Because we have powered up the Frialator and are now dropping the planet in for supper. It might float. Sure. It might. It could. Maybe. Or it might sink and blister and warp and peel and turn all black and smoking crispy and become entirely incapable of supporting even so much as a single cockroach. Or maybe something in between. The Unnerved Experts have no idea. They are clueless and lining up at the MIT bursars office to ask for their money back. So nobody knows. But we do know that either way the stakes are so big we can label them the Fate of All Life on Earth and call it a day and isn’t that really what the Precautionary Principle is all about? Backing away from the deep fryer when it’s not entirely clear whether you’re gonna come up with a delicious plate of haddock and chips or a smoldering platter of uh-oh and oops.
Which is why it was good to see Jeffrey in handcuffs the other day. Because it appears we have to make some noise on this one. A big racket and real soon, too. Because c’mon… even the Experts are now Officially Unnerved, and I am unnerved and concerned by the fact that not enough people are as unnerved and concerned about the Experts being unnerved and concerned as I am. There is a very clear message here and it does not seem to be penetrating the collective cranial cavity as quickly as it needs to. I was foolishly thinking quite hopefully and innocently in what was apparently an overwhelming miasma of stunning naiveté that once it became clear the Experts were unnerved that we would all sort of come to our senses and act like we had a survival instinct and cared about our kids and, you know, tomorrow and all, and so would quite naturally and willingly ask what can we do to hit the breaks quick on this whole wacky carbon thing that we can’t be completely sure about but have a sneaking suspicion is gonna suck like a shop-vac on steroids. Silly me. I thought that we would cool our collective jets once we all saw the Goracle’s movie and the pictures of the weirdly thawing un-permafrost and watched the weather forecast calling for sunscreen in January and heard all the scientists who weren’t on Exxon-Mobil’s payroll screaming in unprecedented unison that the atmosphere was going haywire and they were quickly becoming Quite Unnerved. That’s what I thought anyway. But boy was I wrong.
‘Cause they be fiddling like the suicidal mad men we have no choice but to now assume they are down there D.C. And that’s where it counts. Because you can change all the light bulbs in the world but if your government thinks global warming is a badly written piece of pulp fiction from Michael Crichton and has its head stuck in some kind of intellectual Jurassic dark, the change you were hoping to achieve ain’t gonna come and the Experts will remain all very much Unnerved. Like I am myself sitting here in Vermont on October 3rd and the forecast is calling for 80 degrees by Friday and the basil is still growing and the tomatoes haven’t stopped and there isn’t a frost in sight and that’s great if you want a fresh salad but maybe not so wonderful if you want to live on a planet whose meteorology hasn’t been tossed along with 600 million years of irreplaceable natural history into a blender set on “Pulverize.” Hey Jeffrey! Save me a place on the front lines. I’ll be there just as soon as I can finish putting all my screens back in…