Proposal to Paris: OxTax!

"We are in deep yogurt," says Ola Johannesen,

He ought to know. He has spent four decades studying the Norwegian Arctic, and just given a paper at a symposium that the American Polar Institute organized with Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. Global warming? "Yogurt" is his answer to the question. Talk there was not about "if," but about "how much."

The timing might have been serendipitous, but it was a suitably sobering warm-up (if that's the right word) for Paris.

Paris, wounded Paris. Preoccupied Paris. And after the Friday 13th horror, what a metaphor. Because here it comes. The last best opportunity to, if you can believe, save a wounded Mother Earth from a stormy, flooded future.

So much has happened since last blog. I've been to that polar conference, interviewed Johannesen and Walter Munk, the "Einstein of the Oceans," the Paris attack happened, and last but not least, Nola, the northern white rhino, has died at the age of 41 at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. One of the last four northern white rhinos on earth.

But first Paris. Great love of my life. Les terraces! Syria's reserves of pain and destruction invaded the City of Light and left us stunned. Who to blame? George Bush? For having started a war in reaction to 9/11, and setting free the forces of hate?

Or was it global warming? I tend to believe the voices who say the whole Syrian debacle is actually less about religion and armies and more about lack of rain. As John Kerry mentioned recently, Syria has been through a 15-year drought, the worst on record. Result is 15 million farmers abandoning their land and heading into a desperate rootless life in the cities.

Iraq's the same: too little water, too much oil. The resulting wars are the obvious horror, but the big shocker for me is that by the end of this century, large areas of the Middle East are expected to "experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans." (The quote is from the journal Nature Climate Change, reported in the New Yorker.) It shows you how utterly dependent we all are on the weather being kind to us. Look a little further back to the French Revolution of 1789. The Laki volcano in Iceland blew in 1783, and caused a famine in France that climaxed in 1788. That, not Marie Antoinette or the Sans Culottes was the spark that ignited The Terror of the French Revolution.

So what happens to nature directly affects us. And no. Industrialization doesn't cause all the woes of warming we bemoan. But the way we have stoked the fires these last two centuries, and even more so this last fifty years, is surely the cause of the scary weather-wobbles we're experiencing. Talk about one bad thing leading to another! The industrial wealth of the west has set the pattern, the example, to emerging economies on How To Get There From Here. Why would they not follow suit and replicate the "exploitation" model of industrialization rather than a "sustainable" one?

But see, there you go. I'm falling into the trap of just saying how awful this is going to get. So. Big breath, and back to addressing how are we going to turn this around. My answer, as in the last two blogs: to implement an oxygen tax. But how do we know it would work? And exactly how would we implement it?

The first question to answer is how much it would cost. How much would carbon creators have to actually pay to persuade oxygen creators to seriously curate and protect their oxygen factories, and indeed increase them? And be painful enough to persuade the oxygen consumers to create less co2 and more O2?

And how would you administer a worldwide system of accurate measurements and realistic payments? This is not something that could be created overnight. Opportunities for cheating, issues of fairness, and the answerability of the organizing bodies to participating nations would be huge issues, and maybe more than the UN could handle, or national authorities would tolerate.

Then again, that's what they said about organizing the UN itself. Or the European Union. The massive bureaucracy! The intrusion of big government!

But in the meantime, while everybody's arguing, you have the Greenland ice sheet, storing 25 vertical feet of global water, threatening to unstick. And you have Nola the Northern White rhino, the third to last of her kind, which is surely disappearing after surviving for half a million years on earth. You can't blame their specific extinction on global warming, but the fact that they're calling our's the Age of the Sixth Extinction (read Elizabeth Kolbert) tells you Nola's part of a speed-up death spiral whose effects we, mankind, are at the very least exacerbating.

Next, I promise, less on how playing ostrich is leading us to the brink and more on how to save ourselves from ourselves. There are ways! Because, hopefully, we too are capable of evolving.

If only to learn how to swim in yogurt.