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Late Nite FDL: Let’s Keep Dancing

The G8 summit wrapped up today in Germany, where President Bush was likely offering back rubs and the Germans were, no doubt, reciprocating with offers of their famous pretzels. (Essen Sie die Brezel!) While most of the world was stunned to hear Bush even mentioning climate change this week, residents of Greenland were hearing something unusual, too: A sound of thunder. (Don’t worry, Ray Bradbury, this isn’t another “screwed a-hole” stealing the title of one of your stories.)

ILULISSAT, Greenland (Reuters) — Atop Greenland’s Suicide Cliff, from where old Inuit women used to hurl themselves when they felt they had become a burden to their community, a crack and a thud like thunder pierce the air. “We don’t have thunder here. But I know it from movies,” says Ilulissat nurse Vilhelmina Nathanielsen, who hiked with us through the melting snow. “It’s the ice cracking inside the icebergs. If we’re lucky we might see one break apart.”

Oh, Vilhelmina, if only we were all that lucky. I suppose luck is a relative thing when you dwell near a place called Suicide Cliff.

A new island in East Greenland is a clear sign of how the place is changing. It was dubbed Warming Island by American explorer Dennis Schmitt when he discovered in 2005 that it had emerged from under the retreating ice. If the ice cap melted entirely, oceans would rise by 23 feet, flooding New York and London, and drowning island nations like the Maldives. A total meltdown would take centuries but global warming, which climate experts blame mainly on human use of fossil fuels, is heating the Arctic faster than anywhere else on Earth. “When I was a child, I remember hunters dog-sledding 50 miles on ice across the bay to Disko Island in the winter,” said Judithe Therkildsen, a retiree from Aasiaat, a town south of Ilulissat on Disko Bay. “That hasn’t happened in a long time.”

Disko’s been dead for decades in America, too, Judithe. But at least we can start dancing on Warming Island now, right? And there’s plenty of time before anybody who visited New York for the 2004 Republican Convention will have to pretend they really care about the place again. Bush will be 104 years old in 2050, when the big deal he brokered in Germany yesterday cuts emissions in half. That is, if anybody comes up with any plans to actually limit emissions at all. Bush’s “enormous step forward” contains no mandates whatsoever.

The more the surface melts, the faster the ice sheet moves towards the ocean. The glacier Swiss Camp rests on has doubled its speed to about 9 miles a year in the last 12 years, just as its tongue retreated 10 km into the fjord. “It is scary,” said Steffen. “This is only Greenland. But Antarctica and glaciers around the world are responding as well.”

I’m glad I’m not the only one who is frightened by a tongue retreating six miles into a fjord, if you know what I mean. But is this really that scary? Isn’t there a good side to the accelerated destruction of the processes that have made our planet the only habitable sphere in the known universe?

If you’re a fisherman in Greenland, however, global warming is doing wonders for your business. Warmer waters entice seawolf and cod to swim farther north in the Atlantic into Greenlandic nets. In this Disko Bay town, the world’s iceberg capital, the harbor is now open year-round because winter is no longer cold enough to freeze it solid.

Disko dances!

Warmer weather also boosts tourism, a source of big development hopes for the 56,000 mostly Inuit inhabitants of Greenland, which is a self- governing territory of Denmark. Hoping to lure American visitors, Air Greenland launched a direct flight from Baltimore last month, and there is even talk of “global warming tourism” to see Warming Island. One commentator, noting the carbon dioxide emissions such travel would create, has called that “eco-suicide tourism.”

Eco-suicide tourism. That’s what I call upside. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin just might be right after all. Maybe global warming isn’t “a problem we must wrestle with.” Maybe it really is “arrogant” for New Yorkers and Maldivians to be whining about their respirational goals instead of embracing Bush’s “aspirational goal.”

“Will the new framework consist of binding commitments or voluntary commitments?” asked CBS News’s Jim Axelrod. “In this instance, you have a long-term, aspirational goal,” [Bush environmental advisor Jim] Connaughton answered. Aspirational goal? Like having the body you want without diet or exercise? Or getting rich without working? “I’m confused,” Axelrod said. “Does that mean there will be targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions, and that everybody will be making binding commitments?” “The commitment at the international level will be to a long-term, aspirational goal,” the Bush aide repeated.

What more do you want, New York? We have a long-term goal. Bush isn’t ignoring the problem, Steve Benen. He just doesn’t want to be arrogant. He’s keeping the promise he made to us when he debated Al Gore:

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us; if we’re a humble nation, but strong, they’ll welcome us. And our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that’s why we’ve got to be humble, and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom.

They’re gonna love us. This bit of snark is dedicated to TRex, who should be enjoying a “cold one” right now.

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