March 08, 2008

They dream strange academic dreams in far Northern Norway, where the Aurora Borealis can blaze until the Midnight Sun rises over a seat of learning equidistant from Rome and the North Pole.

When the sun does rise over the University of Tromso, the air up there will start to warm more avidly than in normal climes. In the land of long shadows, the sun shines through the atmosphere’s thickness almost edgewise even at not-very-high noon, and the long twilight muffles the radiative loss of heat by night.

The oblique light gives rise to wonders—shadows with halos and triple images of the sun, and these bewildering northern specters can give rise to a parochial sense of place—Tromso proudly proclaims itself the Northernmost University. Sometimes local pride is sublimated into the equation of Ultima Thule’s natural history with the way things ought to be throughout the world. But when Tromso’s Rector Emeritus manifests this phenomenon at its most extreme the world has to listen, because Ole Danbolt Mjoes is the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee

Elsewhere in the world, global warming is nearly impalpable as plate glass is invisible. Not at 70 North, where sunlight falls sideways through the air. To understand this, peer through the edge of a plate glass table top. Glass that seems colorless seen thinly becomes brilliant green through its thickness from side to side, its color exponentially growing with apparent thickmess, as a minute trace of iron adds up into strong absorption in glass seen on edge.

Long rays of sunlight slanting through the arctic sky likewise amplify the trapping of solar energy, making invisibly trapped warmth palpable, as enegy ricochets around, trapped by the sheer number of greenhouse gas molecules in its way.  One paradox of failed transparency can give rise to another, and the already hazy subject of climate politics was rendered more opaque last year when Norway’s Communitarian President and the President of the University experiencing global warming at its most extreme took over the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. Ole Danbolt Mjoes has to say about how he directed the prize:

Speech given by The Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee – Ole Danbolt Mjøs
(Oslo, December 10, 2007)

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highness, Laureates, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen…,I congratulate the IPCC and Al Gore on this year’s Peace Prize!

The Oxford Dictionary of Contemporary World History describes the Nobel Peace Prize as “the world’s most prestigious prize”…Things which all the world’s scientists are fully agreed on are few and far between. That is in the nature of research. But… Al Gore…has done most to prepare the ground for the political action…An Inconvenient Truth contains … advice on “what you personally can do… to take up arms against tobacco… Where tobacco was concerned, too… No one is in any doubt any longer…We thank Al Gore for his great courage and unremitting struggle!

There was for a long time great doubt about whether global warming was man-made… there is any connection between the environment and …a Nobel Prize for peace?…Today they no longer ask. The connection is now regarded as among the most “robust” in modern political science… When low-lying areas are flooded …Such cities as Quito, La Paz and Lima are affected .The wind that blows the sand off the Sahara sets people and camels moving towards… a breakdown of established codes of conduct… “a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world”… Our style is largely sober…But…To ignore the challenge of global warming may be criminal. It certainly is disobeying God. It is sin. “

Former Next Laureate Gore, accepting, replied
“We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency—a threat to the survival of our civilization… we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst—though not all—of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly.

However…too many of the world’s leaders are still best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler’s threat:

“They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent.”

So today, we dumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer…trapping more and more heat from the sun. …the consistent conclusion, restated with increasing alarm, is that something basic is wrong.

We are what is wrong.”

And he is one hung political convention away from the Oval Office. Let it not be said that dynamite was Alfred Nobel’s only gift to mankind.


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