Hurting our planet by degrees
Seattle Times staff columnist
Remember Friday? The sun was out and the temperature rose into the 70s.
It was glorious, but I couldn't enjoy it without also thinking about the bad side of a small change in the weather. It only takes an increase of a few degrees to lift spirits, but it also takes only a few degrees to make life-altering climate changes.
A couple of weeks ago, the University of Washington decided to have its next class of freshmen read a book of essays about global warming.
A committee chose "Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change," by Elizabeth Kolbert, a reporter for The New Yorker.
The choice was influenced by an international report issued in February in which scientists said without reservation that global warming is happening and that human activity is likely the cause of much of it.
People in the most prosperous parts of the world have created the conditions for temperature increases that will have significant effects around the planet.
The scientists who participate in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued another report on the consequences of warming.
The most negative of those consequences will fall most heavily on people in the poorest parts of the world — people who contributed the least to, and reaped the smallest benefit from, the activities that are altering Earth's temperature.
Chances are strong that a fourth of the world's species will become extinct and some coasts and islands will be inundated by rising ocean levels while other areas will suffer water shortages.
The second report came out on that sunny Friday, and details are due this week.
UW's incoming freshmen will have to deal with the results of global warming for all of their adult lives. It makes sense to have them start thinking about it now.
This is the second time the university has had its freshman class read the same book. I don't envy the committee that picks what they call the common book.
It would be easier to make a decision if the idea were simply for students to have the bond of a shared book to discuss.
But the UW is choosing books that will help shape the educational experience of these young people.
That in turn will affect what they do when their education is done. We will leave them with a lot of problems to fix.
One of the six books being considered was a close-up of life in Afghanistan. Clearly a story it would be beneficial for them to read.
Another was "Kindred," by the late Octavia E. Butler. It deals with one of this nation's unhealed wounds, slavery.
Either would have been a fine choice.
Another book under consideration was "The Worst Hard Time," by Seattle writer Timothy Egan, which shows the Dust Bowl through the eyes of people tormented by the natural disaster. It's another story of what happens when people trample on the environment.
And the Dust Bowl may not prove to be the worst hard time, if we don't take seriously the need to make changes in our behavior.
Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or email@example.com.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company