, Newburyport, MA


June 25, 2013

By land and by sea

An old friend of mine posted this on Facebook: “New research demonstrates the Arctic ice cap is melting from below as well as from above. Warmer waters are the cause. This does not bode well for us.”

I replied, “Climate change is warm work, both on land and by sea, so it is essential that we hear this warning and act strongly on it, just the way our patriot forbearers heard Paul Revere’s alarm, and turned back the threat at Lexington and Concord.”

That’s all very well for an exchange between old friends, and it does have a certain ring, when you refer to the survival of the human race and such an icon of American history as the “shot heard ‘round the world.”

However, it bears closer examination.

It’s true that we say that climate change is global warming, which has puzzled some, when we link global warming and severe winter storms. This apparent contradiction is explained by saying that the ever-increasing levels of carbon in our atmosphere are raising earth’s temperature, already by 1 degree Celsius — the unit scientists use — so global warming is an accurate way to describe the fundamental change that is being caused by people on our planet.

Having said that, we can say a warmer earth means warmer air, which holds more water, which may fall as either rain or snow here in New England.

At the same time, and this point is huge for ocean-side dwellers like us, melting ice caps and glaciers mean sea level rise, which gives Atlantic storms a head start on flooding our barrier beach, shoreline, marsh and tidal rivers.

Now let’s turn to the audacious comparison between those sounding the climate change alarm today — folks like Al Gore of “An Inconvenient Truth” and Bill McKibben of — and Paul Revere, whose mission was to prevent the loss of the Minutemen’s weapons. As it turned out, instead of being disarmed, the patriots used their guns and local knowledge to send the British back to Boston and ultimately, back to Great Britain, a result that can be called a win-win in the long run.

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