TCS Daily


Pilgrim's Progress

By Russell Seitz - October 1, 2003 12:00 AM

Massachusetts has truly taken to heart the observation that all politics is local. Despite the Constitution's dim view of townships entering into treaties with foreign princes and potentates, two mayors here want to enact the Kyoto convention as a municipal ordinance. Their manifesto is a Boston Globe op-ed declaring: "Both Worcester and Newton are committed... a 75-85 percent reduction in greenhouse gases is necessary... Massachusetts must act now."

Newton protested Salem's burning of witches without EPA approval, and endorsed the Puritan Synod of 1679's imposition of the death penalty for smoking after fornication, but carbon dioxide has still burgeoned over the centuries. So to comply with the Mayor's manifesto each Newton resident must now take 300 tons out of circulation. Some may try inhaling it recreationally, or using it to inflate bicycle tires, soccer balls, and whoopee cushions, but much will remain -- wherever will they put it all?

Storing the CO2 as a liquid simply won't do. Building tanks entails coal mining, steel smelting, and the risk of leakage turning Newton Reservoir into a slough of Vichy water. Clearly, a more solid solution is called for. Nature has smiled on those who would come to her aid -- carbon dioxide forms dry ice. Paving Newton over with 26 million tons of dry ice blocks might have a chilling effect on property taxes. To avoid this pitfall, and sidestep the NIMBY factor, it might seize all front yards by eminent domain. Within them, households could be left at liberty to arrange their CO2 stockpiles as pyramids, faux gates of Babylon, replicas of the Lincoln Memorial, or bobsled runs for their 2.3 children.

But what of the first, worst, and foremost of the insidious greenhouse gases, water vapor? Since the retreat of the glaciers, this pernicious compound has been entering the atmosphere at a frightening rate. Air can hold a hundred times more of it than carbon dioxide, and there is a million tons of air for every living soul.

Never underestimate Yankee ingenuity. Humidity will readily condense on the frigid dry ice. Newton is used to snow, so 2.6 billion extra tons of frost will scarcely be noticed. With enough shovels, the fluffy white stuff can soon be spread to a uniform thickness of two hundred feet. This splendid insulation will insure that the township's dry ice endures for eons.

The cold winds descending from the icy Newton plateau, will remind towns nearby of their duty to add to the dry ice supply, and accelerate the cooling trend. As each winter's snows add to the frigid substrate, the landscape will rise even as temperatures continue to fall. Soon Cambridge -- no stranger to freeze movements -- will join an archipelago of second growth glaciers waxing faster than polar ice can wane.

As each shining city on a hill reflects more sunlight back into space, New England will return to the Pleistocene state of nature in which the first Pilgrims, newly arrived from Asia, found it. It is for their Native American descendants, not Newton's voters, to decide whether to adorn the land of the Pilgrim's pride with cloned mastodons, or woolly mammoths. Eventually, the whole Earth's reflectivity will return to levels unseen since the planet turned into snowball in the Triassic era, and fire, long the bane of the environment, will succumb to ice as Kyoto's mandate is fulfilled.

Only one MIT meteorology professor has cast a cold eye on the mayor's environmental epiphany. He dreads so great a reduction in carbon dioxide, lest it halt photosynthesis, driving plant life to extinction. His colleagues in the National Academy of Science concur, but other factors may compel him to change his mind. He lives in Newton, where all politics is local.

The Elders of Newton may invite him to feast with them on fungi, and regale him with the wonders of Deep Ecology, and the abyssal tubeworms that thrive in the dark on hydrogen sulfide-photosynthesis indeed! Despite the professor's curmudgeonly doom saying, those reasonable creatures will continue to prosper and evolve in their habitat. In due course they may develop tentacles, and the vertebrae that will enable them to climb up from the slimy depths and on to Plymouth Rock.

Once there, they may scramble ashore to run for public office, or found provincial newspapers, repeating the great Noospheric cycle of being that leads to the metaphysical pinnacle of evolution -- creatures capable of writing the Boston Globe op-eds upon which the fate of the Whole Earth depends. Is it not written in that great Catalogue, oft quoted with reverence and awe in the public schools of the Commonwealth, that "We are as Gods, so we better get good at it"? As long as the ACLU doesn't mind, it sure beats Cotton Mather's sermons.

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