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Fickle Gods of Global Warming

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

I believe there's a God, and while it is legendarily difficult to pronounce on such questions, I believe he lives in Texas or Fort McMurray. It's one or the other.

I'm driven often to the Bible, both for its wisdom and its prose. Strange that the only text that seriously can be said to rival Shakespeare in trenchancy and power of expression should be a work primarily of religion, not literature, a compound book by many authors and, for English readers, a work of translation as well. The King James Bible is the only - as we say these days, though perhaps with some impiety considering my subject - standalone creation that can claim equal status, for its literary excellence, with the otherwise unmatchable harmonies of Shakespeare.

Apocalypse and end days are naturally powerful themes in biblical literature as they are in the traditions of most religious movements. The end of terrestrial or earthly history, the great summoning to judgment are urgent concerns of all religious minds as, for example, the quickest reference to modern-day environmentalism will very easily confirm. Not surprisingly, dramatic material produces the most vivid, electric prose. There is the Book of Revelation, with its many arresting images and surreal visions, but also other moments in the Bible, perhaps referencing post-apocalypse, the New Jerusalem, which address the end of all disharmonies, the mutual embrace of all that before was in conflict.

These passages almost always speak of a bringing together in harmony of prior opposites, conjure scenes of exemplary reconciliation. Perhaps the most famous is from Isaiah: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox."

It is hauntingly arresting stuff: hunted and hunter, prey and predator, their differences resolved, the carnivorous lion going vegetarian, all with innocence their guide - the "little child."

Well, there are signs, for "those who have eyes to see them" that these days may be upon us. On April 19, an expedition team set out from Plymouth, England on a 5,000-mile carbon emission-free roundtrip to the Greenland ice cap. It was planned by an organization called Carbon Neutral Expeditions, one of whose founders explained the journey's focus, and very endearing it was: "The expedition will hopefully show how it is possible to explore some of the most beautiful places on Earth without contributing to their destruction." Their boat, the Fleur, was a 40-foot yacht fitted with solar panels and a wind turbine.

On arrival, they planned to trek to the highest point of the ice cap, then return to their boat and make the journey home, by sail. The return, they noted, was the most significant part: "Return journeys are in the true spirit of expeditions, and essential if this is to be carbon neutral."

Unfortunately even the most glassy-eyed idealism can be confronted by reality, and such was the case with Carbon Neutral's expedition. They hit a bad patch of weather. Their poor boat was thrice capsized. And the fickle Gods of Global Warming must have been taking a siesta, for in one of those incidents one of the team "hit his head and the wind generator and solar panels were ripped from the yacht." I can only imagine them at this moment, staring soulfully into the hurricane-whipped sky, and pleadingly imploring: "Al Gore, Al Gore, why has thou forsaken us? "

They were in a powerless pickle. Solar and sail had failed them and green intentions will not float your boat - they were not so much "carbon neutral" as carbon deprived. Bobbing around the North Atlantic in a gale without motor power of any kind is not the most soothing experience. Fortunately, Providence, in one of its most artful facsimiles, was on hand in the shape of the Overseas Yellowstone - a ship that was, to put it mildly, not relying on solar power or a wind turbine.

It was a 113,000-ton oil tanker, carrying 680,000 barrels of crude oil. We may reach for many adjectives to describe the Overseas Yellowstone but "carbon neutral" will not be among them. Indeed, the Overseas Yellowstone, looked at from a carbon-neutral perspective, is the Life Raft from Hell. Nonetheless the oil tanker picked up the eco-people.

They are now being taken to Maine, from whence presumably they will fly home. By jet. Not kite.

And verily, it is written, the carbon-spewing wolf shall lie down with the global-warming lamb ... the petroleum-devouring lion shall eat straw like the carbon-neutral ox, or something like that. And the Overseas Yellowstone shall lead them.

The voyage was followed by up to 40 schools across Britain to promote climate-change awareness. And how.

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