Friday, August 4, 2006
Keep in touch while on vacation
Have you visited the Mosquito web site recently? If your vacation destination has Internet access, you can still follow what is happening back here in Carlisle. The online version of the paper is often available by late Thursday, even before the printed copies appear with the mail. The web address is www.carlislemosquito.org. As you would expect, the Mosquito online contains all the news, features and press releases found in the printed newspaper. Letters, editorials, the cartoon, calendar listings and classified ads are also included.
The web site has three features not available in the printed version. First, photos on the web are in color. If you or a family member are photographed, feel free to print a copy from your home computer.
Second, the online archive is a great tool for anyone who ever wants to refer to an old article, and would prefer not to wade through a garage full of yellowed back issues. If you know which issue you want, the archive will allow access to that week's full online newspaper. If you do not remember the date the information you want was published, then use the archive search engine, located in the menu area on the left-hand side of the screen. Enter keywords from the title, the subject matter or the reporter's name. If the topic is very specific, (e.g. toadskin lichen), then only one or two keywords are needed. On the other hand, if the topic is more general, (e.g., Old Home Day) then one should add additional keywords and perhaps the year of publication to narrow the search.
Third, the online Mosquito has a menu item called "definitions" where you can find explanations of terms used in town government, such as "40B" and "conservation restriction." This area will soon be expanded and suggestions would be appreciated. What definitions would be helpful to you?
The web site has evolved during the five years it has been in operation. Classified ads were added most recently, and suggestions for improvements are always welcome. Send your ideas to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great vacation!
The cost of convenience
The spike in gasoline prices following Hurricane Katrina caused me to reassess my driving habits, and my energy consumption in general. Though last year's increases were largely due to a temporary shock to refinery capacity caused by the storm, this summer's prices have crept back to substantially the same levels, and look as though they are here to stay. The real cost, however, may lie in factors independent of my wallet.
In his book (and movie) "An Inconvenient Truth," former Vice President Al Gore warns of the dangers posed by global warming. He (and others) have sounded such warnings before, of course. For whatever reason, though, I have relegated the concern to the back of my mind. The danger has seemed too diffuse, too distant. And for every press report on the subject, there seems to be some commentator quick to reassure that the warnings are exaggerated.
To this layperson, the science behind Gore's presentation seems compelling. For me, the culmination of his case came at two discrete moments. First, he presented a chart showing a near lockstep relationship between average temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, spanning several hundred millennia. Whenever carbon dioxide levels have increased in the past, a corresponding increase in temperatures has followed some years later. About 20 years ago, carbon dioxide levels increased to levels higher than ever in the planet's history, and have continued to climb steeply ever since. We are now at more than double the levels that previously represented historic highs. But we have not quite reached the point in time when (if the historic pattern continues) the pronounced temperature increases are evident. The second persuasive point of Gore's presentation was that, of the nearly 1,000 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles written on the subject, none has concluded that the danger of global warming is not real. By contrast, nearly half of the articles published in the popular press (and not subject to scientific peer review) have called into question the reality of the threat. In other words, the scientists agree, and we ignore them literally at our peril.
We have recognized the danger of our dependence on fossil fuels for many years. We know that it is a nonrenewable resource, and that it will therefore eventually run out. But we have become complacent because oil producers continue to find new reserves, and thereby keep us supplied with relatively modest increases in cost. We have separately paid lip service to our vulnerability based on our dependence on foreign producers, particularly in light of the volatile political climate in the Middle East.
But — even as rockets rain on southern Lebanon and northern Israel — the threat of Middle East instability pales in comparison to the threat posed by a temperature increase of the magnitude predicted by science and planetary history. Earth (alone among known planets) supports life based on an incredibly fragile balance of temperature and hospitable conditions for animals like us. An increase in average temperatures of only a few degrees could (by melting polar ice caps and thereby causing a shift in ocean currents) produce dramatic changes in the climates of Europe and North America. A more significant temperature increase could well threaten the viability of human life on earth.
To some degree, the "sticker shock" we all experience at the gas pumps is sure to get our attention, and to create incentives toward conservation measures. We will be doing ourselves and our children a disservice, however, if we confine our concern to household budgets, and do not undertake a more concerted effort to address the threat of global warming.
© 2006 The