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Menings | Opinion > Rubrieke | Columns > English > Mike Rands: Dr Pelikan Reports

Warming up to global warming (Mother Nature’s noxious bowels)


Mike Rands - 2007-04-12

There is a common misconception that the effects of global warming will become apparent sometime in some distant future. This, of course, breeds apathy and disinterest. But the truth is that we are already experiencing numerous negative side-effects of a warmer planet. For instance, I have an Eskimo friend with whom I regularly correspond. He lives in Antarctica and for several weeks wrote to me complaining of a drip that was coming from his ceiling. He couldn’t seem to locate the hole and so had to keep moving the bucket around his house. In the end he had twelve buckets on the floor, as he assumed his roof was leaking in twelve different places. Unlike many of his other Eskimo companions, my friend Es’kia Mo is not well informed on the issue of global warming. He did not realise that his house was not leaking, but melting. I decided to forward his story to the American government, hoping it would elicit a sympathetic response. They wrote back to me saying it was foolish to build a house out of ice and that he should consider reinforcing it with titanium shafts. They referred me to Alan Warmaker, a titanium salesman.

Having to explain all this to Es’kia was heartbreaking. He soon began to place other events of recent months into context. His friend Ru’obia da Nouse had fallen through the ice when fishing one day. He was so cold that his nose turned black and he was unable to kiss his wife for a month. Mrs Da Nouse being the vivacious woman she is, soon started rubbing noses with another Eskimo. This was heart-shattering for Ru’obia. The two have since reconciled their marriage, but he knows that his nose is not as sexy as it once was. It makes him feel damn unpretty.

Both Es’kia and Ru’obia have a great love for polar bears. Es’kia especially admires their tenacity and will to survive in adverse conditions. But of late, he tells me, the polar bears have been suffering. They are accustomed to hunting in water and on land. They are good swimmers, but need ice sheets to rest on. As much of the ice is now melting, the bears’ traditional resting spots are gone. They naively head off into the ocean assuming they will find something to cling on to. But after hours of swimming, the bears begin to cramp. They tire, some drown. Esk’ia and other concerned Eskimos tried to get the bears to wear armbands, but they consistently gnawed them off. The bands come only in yellow and red. These colours are considered extravagant by polar bears, who are modest creatures and shun excess as they shun a hot bath. So now Es’kia and his team have started teaching them to swim breaststroke and backstroke, as these require less energy than the polar paddle generally employed by the bears.

It is sad that such humble creatures should be falling prey to global warming, a symptom of man’s excessive desires.

Well, you might say, poor Es’kia and Ru’obia and the polar bears. It’s sad, but it’s not my problem. The truth is, none of us can escape the consequences of a warmer earth. As my friend Es’kia now knows all too well, the polar ice caps are melting. But I fear that he is not aware of the terrible rate at which this melting is taking place. The ice caps have always created a self-sustaining environment. The ice is so cold that it keeps the air around it cold, which in turn keeps the ice frozen. As the earth warms, the polar caps begin to melt. But they do not melt uniformly from top to bottom. Instead, cracks begin to appear in the ice, small rivers form and eventually open up into dams. This newly formed dark blue water can hold far greater amounts of heat than the white ice, which reflects the sun’s rays. This means that where the polar system was once self-sustaining as a cool environment, it now becomes a self-sustaining melting pot. The warm water heats the air around the caps, which in turn melts the ice, and so on. If drastic measures are not taken, many of us alive today may well look forward to seaside holidays in De Aar.

But there are things more terrifying than rising oceans. Things that Doctor Pelikan himself was unaware of until recently. And the most terrifying of all is the megafart! Beneath parts of the ocean there are large lattices of methane that remain trapped and condensed under extreme pressure and extremely low temperatures. With a change in environmental conditions, however, these lattices can begin to break down. The methane will seep out from beneath the ocean floor and make its way toward the surface, expanding as it rises. The oceans will bubble with Mother Nature’s humungous bath fart. And yes, it will stink! The whole world will smell like a bathroom after a fat man has spent an hour in the tub with a buy-bulk-and-save can of baked beans. Our day at the De Aar beachfront will be ruined.

It is worth remembering, however, that the last time Mother Nature had stomach cramps (about 55 000 000 years ago) the resulting conditions spawned a whole new range of species, amongst which omomyids, the ancestors of simians, which in turn spawned us humans. So we people folk are in fact the children of a big fart. We owe a lot to methane. That is not to say, however, that the next time nature calls Mother Nature we’ll be as lucky. The last fart wiped out previous inhabitants of the earth, and the next one may well do the same to us.

Call it what you want – the second coming, the second farting – there will be wind, sulphur and all manner of unsavoury things. As they say in too many movies: It’ll be all the worst parts of Revelation.

But let us not get too biblical. You have been warned. Invest in a pool noodle and a gas mask. It’s going to be nasty.