Fire and ice

About two years ago, I wrote an essay called “Drip, drip, drop” for SN&R about what it felt like to walk out onto the mighty Athabasca Glacier in Canada.

Standing on top of that 1,000-foot-high pile of pressurized crystal was revelatory to me. That’s because the thing was melting. You could literally hear the dripping, see the glacier turning from ice to blue liquid in rivulets all around. As most of us are aware, the same thing is happening to the great ice masses in the Arctic and Antarctic, to the Cascade Range, to Mount Rainer, to Montana’s Glacier National Park … you name it.

Before “Drip, drip, drop,” I’d read and written plenty about global warming and its causes and dangers. The vast majority of scientists on the planet agreed that the greenhouse-gas effect was happening, I’d written in SN&R editorials and elsewhere. Human activities—like the use of fossil fuels, the destruction of the forests and the release of industrial gases like chlorofluorocarbons—were responsible for this effect and were causing the warming of the planet. I’d summarize: The net impact of it all would surely endanger future generations.

I thought I’d understood.

But it wasn’t until I stood on Athabasca a few summers ago that I really got it. The ice is melting. Climate change is for real. And the country still isn’t doing much of anything about it. The Bush administration’s recent lack of intent and obligation at the climate-change talks in Montreal was awful testament to this fact.

My revelation on Athabasca came back to me full force this week as I read Ralph Brave’s interview “Global warming and the fear of a frozen planet” with local author Kim Stanley Robinson. Brave witnessed Robinson in action on the East Coast—on a book-tour stop and at a speech to the National Science Foundation—and then came west to interview the author right here on home ground.

Robinson is a fiction writer, have no doubt. But his brilliance and relevance are grounded in the stuff of the real world. Now he’s tackled global warming and an “abrupt climate change.”

Unfortunately for us, fiction has been known to forecast.