Week 9 -- Delay and Dilly Dally

Pacing the Planet has arrived in Minnesota at last, sojourning at the little town of Blue Earth, an appropriately-named destination for our project. However, no sooner did we cross the border into this very tall state then our truck conked out while rounding a corner -- a failed injector pump. It has now been five days since that happened, and we still don't have the truck running (though we have every hope that tomorrow will be the day the Pacing the Planet Mobile rides again).

Being stuck in one place has allowed us some unusual opportunities. Blue Earth is home of the Green Giant frozen vegetable company, and every year at this time the town holds fireworks, a parade, and other events in a mini-festival called "Giant Days," all under the presumed benevolent gaze of a 53-foot-tall fiberglass statue of the Jolly Green Man himself. We paid the entry fee and joined the parade, sashaying our way down Main Street to the strains of "Pretty Woman" arising from the teen marching band behind us, while handing out copies of our newly revised Climate Crisis Information Sheet. It was a strange event, to be sure.

Our new information sheet is more specific in its prescription for responding to the climate situation. So much news is coming daily about the climate that there is a new hazard for our project: if we introduce ourselves as simply "climate activists," or "walking to raise awareness about the climate situation," many people will assume they know what our message is; and, yet, our message is still starkly different than what the politicians and journalists are saying, even now. In a nutshell, climate policy that isn't based on the scientific understanding of the climate system's limitations means nothing at all, will not save our planet for us.

As we walk, it is obvious the planet is changing. Not only does the land we pass through seem different, and person after person tells us that their homeland is not what it was when they were growing up (this from 70-year-olds and 20-year-olds alike), but the train of news stories about extreme weather disasters continues unabated. Colossal floods in India, 6,000 people missing, presumed dead. Nineteen firefighters dead in Arizona, charred in a huge fire that no one could contain. This is the crazy world we are birthing. Events that boggle the human imagination cartwheel through the 24-hour news cycle and disappear beneath the froth of our current distractions. This week, an "iceberg" larger than the city of Chicago splintered off Antarctica at a location where two large fissures appeared suddenly last year in a great ice shelf. It now drifts in the Southern Ocean, thousands of miles from civilization but still telling the time of the planet.

While we are essentially "stuck in place" for the time-being, we read about Australia and its current struggles with climate regulation. Australia is considering abandoning its carbon "tax," even though economists, scientists, and fossil fuel industry people are all in support of the program that created it, and the tax is having a measurable effect in reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. The coalition that put the policy in place is threatening to fracture under the stress of the opposition declaring that the "tax" represents a broken political promise and will bankrupt Australian families. (The political opposition there has been unable to find a single Australian economist to back that opinion up.) 

Australia is an important bellwether for the U.S. for a few reasons. Although Australia has a more-complex multi-party coalition government (or maybe because of it), they are the only major greenhouse polluting country to impose a carbon fee -- limited as it is. Created in 2010, the carbon fee program has already demonstrated itself to be effective in curtailing pollution, despite the fact that Australia is the heaviest emitter of greenhouse gases per household in the world. 

The other reason that Australia is an important example for the U.S. is that the unique weather dynamics of the southern continent mean that the land Down Under is already experiencing more severe disruption of its climate and environment from global warming than most of the rest of the world. It will continue to do so. The kinds of droughts that Australia faces now are a preview of what the U.S. will be experiencing these upcoming decades -- droughts that can bring civilizations to their knees. Watching Australia's political forces duke it out over a rather mild carbon fee while the outback burns on a regular basis and water becomes more scarce is an insight into how our own politically polarized government may handle the coming of extreme conditions here. The potential failure of Australia's carbon tax on account of its reputation as a political-economic poison pill shows that government may be too stupid to allow necessity to be the mother of invention.

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