Thursday, August 28, 2008

Swimming to Nowhere

Yesterday, Wednesday, August 27, 2008, we saw the sun for half a day. It added another finger to the one hand on which we can count sunny days or half-days in the last two months. Global warming brings more rain to some latitudes, and ours—and the UK's—happen to fall within this pattern. So while we're heating up overall, our summers are becoming colder and wetter. A lot of people have wondered aloud how they're going to get through the winter after no sun in the summer. Some have already pulled their SAD lights out of storage.

In spite of the brief appearance of the sun, the general mood has not been helped by the story that also came out yesterday about the futile swim of nine polar bears headed north towards the ice they need for survival but which they cannot possibly reach because it is now four hundred miles away. ( The fact that this number of bears was seen in one transect means that there are probably many more launched on the same hopeless journey. Perhaps their drowned bodies will be found like those of the four in 2004; perhaps they will sink without a trace.

Amid the hoopla of the Democratic National Convention, worries about the hurricane season, squabbling over who owns the Northwest Passage, violence in the Middle East, human rights violations and Olympic deceit in China, this image should haunt us, not only because of the suffering inflicted by humans on a magnificent animal that will swim itself to death seeking ice that should be within reach but is no longer, but also because it is symbolic of the human condition. Forget the canary in the mine; it's the polar bear in the sea. Some months ago I wrote about "The Walrus of the Living God". Surely judgment will come because of drowning polar bears as well.

There is no point in fighting over shipping rights in the Northwest Passage if there are no human beings to benefit from the economic advantages of using it. Even if human beings survive in a barren world, is there lasting joy or satisfaction in the items these ships will transport? Deprivation of nature psychosis is already far too evident. Is it to become the norm?

The polar bear has a role in the human psyche, just as wilderness does in general. We cannot deny our origins, and to lose touch with them is fatal. This same week has seen the trumpeting of news that within a few decades computers will be smarter than we are. In what sense? Machines have no sense of "wild", of the chthonic dynamisms that make us human. Advertising already influences our behavior far more than we are aware. Are we then to become automatons? If so, we are on the high road to tyranny and the conservative dream.

We might think of the receding ice pack as the wisdom and insight that human beings once sought in order to realize what we used to call divinity, and have now forgotten; and the ever enlarging expanse of Arctic Ocean as the political, economic and spiritual sewage in which the world is now floundering. We are reaching the point of no return, just as the retreat of the ice is reaching its tipping point.

I hadn't intended this post to be a political commentary, but as sick as we all are of political news, we need to pay attention. This election is not so much about the personality who will occupy the White House as it is about the Supreme Court appointments that occupant will make. Few people would argue that four more years of W. and the disasters he has brought on us would be less than catastrophic. But that is exactly what we will get if McCain wins. He would appoint at least three more ultra-conservative justices, who would give us not just four more years of short-sighted decisions that destroy our environment and our humanity, but decades of decisions that give increasing power to the few. Our system of checks and balances is broken; it needs to be fixed.

It doesn't matter what you think of Obama or the Democrats. Vote against McCain. It may be too late to save the polar bears, but it may not be too late to save a remnant of basic human values or to restore the checks on the executive envisioned by the US Constitution.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can we ignore the horror of this? That such creatures swim in the same world as we do?

I hang my head in utter shame.


8:22 am, March 14, 2014  

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