Saturday, November 17, 2007

"Nature should inspire us with awe, not pity"

Camille Paglia on global warming:

The recent horrific wildfires in California set off a gratuitous series of maunderings (from Jamie Lee Curtis to Thomas Friedman) about human culpability in global warming, the new liberal theology. Man is evil! Natural disasters are escalating! The world is coming to an end!

Good lord, were all these people in a coma through the gigantic storms like Hurricane Camille in 1969? The destruction wrought by that Category 5 storm is chronicled in Philip D. Hearn's book, "Hurricane Camille: Monster Storm of the Gulf Coast," published three years ago. With winds of 200 miles per hour, Camille devastated 26 miles of Mississippi's coastline and killed 170 people. The tidal surge reached 35 feet, while the barometric pressure approached an all-time low. One of my prized possessions is a poster torn from a London newsstand (I was traveling as a grad student in Europe): "HURRICANE CAMILLE WREAKS HAVOC!"

Hurricanes in the early 20th century were numerous and hugely destructive: For example, the 1926 Miami hurricane may have killed 800 people; the 1935 Florida Keys hurricane, a Category 5, killed more than 400 and was dramatized in the Humphrey Bogart film "Key Largo"; the Great New England hurricane of 1938 killed 600. The latter storm hit Long Island and the New England coastline with a 12- to 16-foot storm surge and catastrophically flooded downtown Providence, R.I. Among the large beachfront homes completely swept away was Katharine Hepburn's family house in Old Saybrook, Conn. Hepburn barely escaped with her life. All that was left was the bathtub and some family silver buried in the sand.

This facile attribution of climate change to human agency is an act of hubris. Good stewardship of the environment is an ethical imperative for every nation. But breast-beating hysteria merely betrays impious tunnel vision. Thousands of factors, minute and grand, are at work in cyclic climate change, whose long-term outcomes we cannot possibly predict. Nature should inspire us with awe, not pity.

Here column reads like a blog, she should start one :-) It would probably become my favorite.