, Newburyport, MA


May 28, 2013

Oceans apart

Lake Kezar in southwestern Maine was where I learned to swim. Fresh water, of course. Not as buoyant as the Atlantic shore of Connecticut, where Mom had carried me into the surf on her shoulders, but cold on a summer morning. Cold.

A few years later, we took a drive, Dad, brother Doug and me, heading west until we reached the other great ocean that washes our shores. Along the way, I took a dip in the Great Salt Lake, which was so buoyant, I almost felt I could stand on its surface and walk on the water.

Just last summer, my namesake grandson, Jonny Harwood, tried the Pacific Coast beaches as well as those of the Atlantic, having done most of his swimming in a great lake, Michigan.

Not much if any change with these oceans from one generation to another, at least not anything obvious. However, there is great change taking place — the Atlantic Ocean off New York has risen a foot in recent years, and at a pace that leads me to wonder what our climate has in store for even the rest of Jonny’s life, to say nothing of the grandchildren of his generation.

NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen has determined that we could manage with 350 parts per million of carbon in our atmosphere, even though that was way more than we were breathing just a century or so before. In Vermont, Bill McKibben, who had written “The End of Nature,” joined with seven Middlebury College students to form what has become the Earth’s largest grass-roots environmental organization and named it after Hansen’s key number –

Here in ‘13, we have yet to balance the books, to take our climate scientists’ advice, to the extent that the carbon reading has continued to climb, reaching 400 ppm this month, a level never before experienced by human beings, because we weren’t around millions of years ago, when our atmosphere previously reached such a high carbon content.

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