A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Lear, Blair and the Kyoto Treaty


For three Martian summers in a row, deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near Mars' south pole have shrunk from the previous year's size, suggesting a climate change in progress. Here's what King Lear might say:

"Blow winds and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!
You cataracts and hurricanes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers of oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's moulds…!"

Well, Lear had his reasons for encouraging nasty weather, finding in its violence a parallel to his own inner turmoil. Feeling disrespected, powerless and unloved, Lear goes out to address the elements.

Last week, Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair went out to address the elements as well, announcing in essence Britain's abandonment of the Kyoto Treaty. Kyoto attempted to set limits on greenhouse gas emissions for developed countries. Over the past few years it became evident to Blair that the lost economic growth involved in meeting Kyoto's requirements could not be borne. Some in Britain must be saying that Blair, too, is seeking to crack nature's molds.

Here in America, though, we have trouble taking the Kyoto Treaty seriously, even as some of us drive our SUVs to demonstrations in its support. It's not the global warming we necessarily dismiss; it's Europe's sincerity about it. One is transported to Jonathan Swift's fantasy of Gulliver (that is, America) awakening to find himself tied down by a myriad of little Lilliputian bureaucratic strings, ribbons of European red tape attempting to hold back the primal force of unfettered (yep, American) dynamism. Europe, like Lenox speaking to Macbeth on the night of Duncan's murder, is welcome to wring her hands all she likes (Note: it's the obscure bird that's clamorously prophesying all the livelong day with terrible accents about confused, dire, combustible events that suit the woeful time):

"This night has been unruly; where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down; and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i'th' air; strange screams of death,
And, prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion, and confused events,
New hatched to th' woeful time, the obscure bird
Clamoured the livelong night; some say, the earth
Was feverous, and did shake."

If our clamourous European friends could be trusted as honest brokers of thought and information, we might listen. After all, the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide has risen during the industrial era to a level above a previous global baseline. Is the earth feverous, and doth it shake? And is it because the Macbeth of Humanity is murdering the Duncan of the Environment in its sleep? Here's Glendower in Henry IV (and Hotspur's answer to him):

Glen: "…At my nativity
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,
Of burning cressets, and at my birth
The frame and huge foundation of the earth
Shaked like a coward."

Hotspur: "Why so it would have done
At the same season if your mother's cat
Had but kittened, though yourself had never been born."

Hotspur has a point. Maybe it has nothing to do with us. That carbon dioxide baseline isn't exactly stable – global carbon dioxide was 20 times current levels 500 million years ago, dipped, and rose to five times today's level 200 million years ago, corresponding to an era of giant fern forests that sound to me like a perfectly pleasant environment for us to enjoy.

Plus there's the telling evidence of global warming on Mars with which this post begins. Mars is of course not a signatory to the Kyoto Treaty. Is Martian industry engaging in wide-scale air pollution? Of course the likely, simple, boring and non-political answer is that the sun has been pulsing a bit, affecting all planets. But you can't tie America down with that.

Still, those pesky and probably human-driven CO2 levels remain, and only scientists can identify their true importance. But will they be allowed to pursue their work in a non-politicized environment? Not by Europe, which now represents a force in the world that seeks to bend the spirit of scientific inquiry to its own predetermined ends. An impulse that hides behind a fig-leaf of rationality, but has in fact fallen into an unconscious sublimation of an abandoned religious urge, a religious impulse severed from G-dly faith.

King Lear may rail at the weather, but at least he knows better than to imbue it with a transcendental meaning:

"I tax you not, you elements, with unkindness."

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