There's a study out, the fruit of 30 years' observation, from an Italian research academy that argues a relationship between global warming and suicide. Have we really reached a point of such despair over the prospect of temperature up-creep, that some people are departing this vale of (ever-warmer) tears prematurely?
In Italy, evidently so: “The global increase in surface temperature [known as global warming] was found to impact on mortality through ill health, particularly among the elderly and in summer.” I'm not surprised, though. If you think about it, what doesn't “impact on mortality?” Read Hamlet's great catalogue — the law's delay, the pangs of dispriz'd love etc. — again. I have a real fear, for example, that another season of Deal or No Deal could “impact” on my mortality. Higher blood pressure brought on by the sight or sound of Howie Mandel and his harem, combined with beating my head against the nearest hard surface during a given episode (known physiologically, I believe, as an “involuntary response”) will probably trim a few years from the slender pile.
In the interests of science, may I offer a contrastive thesis, this one, I confess, anecdotal and not swaddled in the language of a scientific abstract. I have often wondered how the interminable fogs that blighted every summer in Placentia Bay shortened the lives of the clutch of us who lived there, starved for decades of what the rest of the world knew familiarly as the summer sun. I can't actually name those whom endless fog drove into the greater void. But spending the better part of a lifetime in a grey, cold mist has to be an extra kick in the shins any time life's other miseries gang up on you. So, yes, I think summer fogs can be “found to impact on mortality.” I must seek out the medical journals for supportive research.
I shall hold off, till such is found, any move to argue for a Fog Supplement to the Kyoto articles.
Global warming, I grow daily more aware, is a very promiscuous phenomenon. It gets credit for everything. Besides all the stuff everyone knows is caused by global warming — the waning of the ice caps, the stranded polar bears, retreating or advancing deserts, snow in Florida, light in Newfoundland — came news this week from a conference of experts in London that global warming “could exacerbate the world's rich-poor divide and help to radicalize populations and fan terrorism.” That's a full plate.
To modify the wonderful question of Homer Simpson: Is there anything global warming can't do? Take whatever the world's miseries and conflicts may be, there is none, apparently, that cannot be made its ready predicate. Conference expert, Sir Crispin Tickell, offered that terrorists were likely to exploit whatever ravages global warming carries in its humid wake. And a noted meteorologist, John Mitchell backed Sir Crispin by reminding conferees that al-Qaeda (ecological brigade, I assume) “had already listed environmental damage among its litany of grievances against the United States.” I would only ask Mr. Mitchell if he is aware of anything that is not on al-Qaeda's “litany of grievances” against the United States. Mr. Mitchell pressed the point by quoting Osama bin Laden himself — I'm not joking — on Kyoto. From Osama's epistle to the Americans of 2003, he cited: “You have destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history. Despite this, you refuse to sign the Kyoto agreement . . .” Who knew? Osama, a Gaia man.
Hot, cold, wet or dry — drought, flood, frost or furnace — if conditions are not seasonal, the insidious influence of global warming is a piece of every weather dynamic. And every social phenomenon. Be it terrorism, famine, suicide in Italy or a flood in New Orleans, there's an article, a news story, or a conference to point to global warming as a principal cause, or a contributory aggravation.
There's something askew in this picture. To subsume every social, natural and political crisis as being subject to a single, all-encompassing force, is either to remove that phenomenon from human capacity to deal with it, or to invite a greater error — the hubris to believe that we can.
If we believe global warming is as big a problem as the world's experts are telling us, we also have to believe the world's politicians are capable of fixing it. That's a leap of faith the record doesn't support.
Every tiny corner of this planet, big or small, is a record of some politician's failure. Check your street: How long have the potholes been there? How's traffic in your downtown? The Vancouver Eastside — how long has that been a blight? Darfur? Oil for Food? Now, we want to believe the politicians are going to fix the weather of the whole world.
The world wants its politicians to “do something” about global warming.
Most likely, alas, they will.
Rex Murphy is a commentator with CBC-TV's The National and host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup.