Tuesday, June 27, 2006

There's floodin' down in D.C., all of the telephone lines are down...

Well, not quite yet. The phones are still working, but much of the Federal City isn't.

The last time I saw Washington D.C. was when I flew in to BWI from Newark on the last leg of my Ireland trip in March. As the plane soared along the Chesapeake Bay (I think it was the Chesapeake Bay) I couldn't shake the impression of buildings and human activity precariously built and conducted along a flood plain. But for the grace of the Cosmic All they would be underwater, I thought.

In the early 1970's Frederik Pohl wrote a story called The Gold at the Starbow's End. It's a depressing story of manipulation, deceit, and unexpected consequences set in the near-future - probably our present. In one passage Pohl envisions an America torn apart by Civil War, where several regional leaders lay claim to the title of President of the United States of America. One of them is a dimwitted thug who seeks to legitimize himself by clinging to the trappings of past Presidents in the soggy ruins of Washington, D.C., flooded by rising ocean levels.

It's not rising ocean levels that are responsible for the current D.C. flood - there will be plenty of time for that later. No, it's just unusually heavy rain that's pounding the entire East Coast. Other parts of the country are being cooked by unseasonably hot weather. Meanwhile, Gypsy Moths and Tent Caterpillars are responding to the situation by experiencing a population explosion and eating their way through the lush forests of Northeastern Pennsylvania, while a blight is killing all of our pine trees, painting large swaths of the mountains rust-red and setting up ideal conditions for devastating forest fires. And in the midst of all this, a National Academies of Science report released last week stated that climate change is real and not just something that Al Gore invented so he could go hang out at Cannes.

So I think in this environment it would be great if Congress were to put aside their debates on flag burning and gay marriage and baseball and pick up the issue of climate change. It's overdue - long overdue, by more than thirty years, since scientists and environmentalists began to sound the horn warning that human activity was changing our environment. We've spent well over 100 years building our greenhouse, molecule by molecule. It's unlikely that any speech presented on the floor of the House or the Senate would reverse those changes, today or tomorrow or next week or next month or next year.

But it would be nice to see such a speech anyway. Especially if the opposition's response were to be presented by someone standing ankle-deep in flood water.

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