Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Springtime in Antarctica

Researchers have learned that the frozen and foreboding interior of Antarctica once was home to moss and insects -- but they hasten to add that this shouldn't lower our anxiety levels about the allegedly dire consequences of human-caused global warming.

Taking the long view does confirm that warming and cooling cycles were taking place on the planet long before SUVs and coal-fired power plants first appeared, in the late Eocene period, which might also suggest that we puny humans (despite our gargantuan egos) have little to do with it. But the researchers are quick to warn that we don't know enough to discount the possibility that mankind's actions might serve as some sort of threshold, or "tipping point," which could send the planet spinning out of control.

"You have to understand where these thresholds are," cautions Geoscientist Adam Lewis, "because, if human beings are unfortunate enough to push climate over one of these thresholds, it could be a total catastrophe."

A total catastrophe for mankind, perhaps, if you want to take that narrow, species-centric view of things. But what about the mosses and midges and ostracodes that once called Antarctica's Olympus range home? They may see things quite differently. For them warming will be a blessing, and could mark a triumphant return. It will be Springtime in Antarctica again. The ostracodes will rejoice.

And we humans -- if we're still around -- can take some credit for that.

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