A cautionary tale from Long Island

29 March 2004 - 8:30pm

Detail of auto ferry docking on cover of Dan's Page by Nidia D' Allesandro

If What Happens Is Reincarnation, You May Be In For A Surprise

By Dan Rattiner on 27 March 2004 in Dan's Papers

As you probably know, 2003 was the third warmest year on the planet since they started keeping records of it. The warmest was 1999. This may seem an odd statistic, considering we’ve just come through a winter where it got so cold your breath froze, fell to the ground and shattered into pieces every day. With the wind chill, it got to minus ten.

This winter, in northern Russia, the temperature dropped to minus thirty. People died. But then people also died, by the thousands, in France and northern Italy last summer when an unexpected spell of temperatures over a hundred degrees lingered for weeks. We experienced dozens of days in the nineties here — a record. We also had a wildly active hurricane season along our coast this past summer. We were spared a direct hit, but during September the weather service tracked sixteen hurricanes. The average is nine, but they may have to move the average upward. More and more hurricanes come every year.

“One has to hit us soon,”
a local forecaster said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

More statistics. The number of registered automobiles in America last year exceeded the number of people with driver’s licenses. If you have a driver’s license, you’ll have a car. Or two. Or three. Cars are the main culprit in the warming of the planet.

I read an article in the paper last week that the Chinese city of Shanghai has banned bicycles on its main highways. Anyone who has visited that city knows bicycles are the main means of transportation there. Well, then you haven’t been there lately. In 1998, the average went down to 85% on bicycles or public transportation. In 2003, the total was 50%, with the rest in automobiles. So now, it’s too dangerous for bikes on the main roads. They are now relegated to back roads.

Shanghai, by the way, is the largest city in China. Twenty million people live there. There are more than a dozen cities in China with more than ten million people in them. The population of China is five times that of America. And China has just discovered automobiles.

A report from an American think tank in Oakland, California, this past week stated that human demand on the world’s resources is now exceeding the capacity of the earth to provide those resources. In the old days, the very, very, very old days, all people on the planet lived simply, growing vegetables, raising animals for meat, hides, wool and milk, fishing, building simple shelters and simple wood fires for warmth and cooking. Nobody traveled much.

Now, it’s different. The think tank measured six human activities and determined that in 1960, humans were consuming 70% of the earth’s ability to regenerate itself. In 1999, that number rose to 120%. In other words, it would take about 1.2 Earths to be able to regenerate what humans use.

I recently returned home from a trip to Hawaii. Some years ago, I lived on Maui for five months. We went to a beach every day back then that was a twenty minute drive down a dirt road, through the woods beyond the tourist area. Locals lived oceanfront along that road, with the chickens, goats and horses. The road ran like that about three miles to the beach. Today, it is all gone. The dirt road is four lanes, and the beach is being enjoyed only by those visiting five oceanfront beach resorts. I have no complaints about the change. There are still wild beaches further down the road. But the Earth is groaning. The change in electricity, air conditioning, auto use, pool heating, golf course watering and so forth and so on is enormous. These hotels are lit up like Christmas trees twenty four seven.

Here on the East End, I live on a hillside overlooking Three Mile Harbor. It’s a nice spot with a water view. From up on the side of the hill, I can look down over the road, some bulkheading and ships in boat slips, and look across the Harbor. Recently, the cost of my homeowner insurance policy doubled. Why? Part of my house is less than 150 feet from the water. There has been a huge increase in the cost of insuring homes near water because of the damage being done to them by the increasing activity of the weather. In addition to the doubled cost, my deductible in the event of “wind, flood or hurricane” damage has gone from $500 to $45,000.

I made inquiries about this. I pointed out that in the thirty years I have lived here, the water in the Harbor has only once risen to the level of the sidewalk along the docks, and never to the level of the road, which is at a seven foot elevation. My house on the hillside is at a 22 foot elevation. It made no difference to the insurance company. Someday, apparently, Three Mile Harbor will rise up. I’m now of a mind to agree with them.

Our President seems to be of the belief that if we westernize and democratize the world it will be a happier and better place. I think he is right. Cars and Burger Kings and malls and all the rest are such fun. They really are. It really does beat milking a goat every day. And so we grow fat. And tolerant of others. And glad for our freedoms.

Some day soon, a wild swing in the weather is going to cause hundreds and even thousands of deaths in America. Then there will be another and another. It will be a wake up call. The religious zealots will say it is a message from God. Kill the infidels. But it won’t be a message from God. It will be a message from the Solar System. Watch out. You think there might have been life on Mars? Some day, if things keep up like this, we’ll be looking to see if there was life on Earth.


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