Professor Lloyd Peck of the British Antarctic Survey is worried about — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — global warming. For this year’s Christmas lecture at the Royal Institution in London, he’ll warn that the merest smidgeonette of an increase in temperature in the south polar seabed will lead to loss of a zillion species.
As the oceans warm, the ice shelves that extend from the polar depths into the sub-Antarctic light will shrink, and the thick mats of algae on their underside will vanish, and the billions of tiny krill that feed on them will perish, and pretty soon, up at the scenic end of the food chain, all those cute seals and penguins and whales will be gone.
All this will happen if the temperature rises 2 degrees, from butt-numbingly freezing to marginally less butt-numbingly freezing. “It is going to be really unpleasant,” Mr. Peck tells Britain’s Guardian newspaper, globally warming to his theme. “We are going to lose things. We just don’t know how much.”
Each to his own. I like whales. I spend a fair bit of time on the North Shore of the St. Lawrence and around the Saguenay fjord in Quebec, and it would certainly be a duller place without the whales gaily plashing hither and yon. But what I find curious is that Professor Peck is supposed to be a scientist and the newspaper reporting his views is famously rational. A month ago, for example, the Guardian — like most of the British and European and global media, and a big chunk of the American press, too — was mocking the kind of folks who had re-elected George W. Bush — “fundamentalists” from “Jesusland,” men of faith, not science, many from jurisdictions where school boards are packed with creationists who look askance at Darwin, evolution and the like.
Evolution posits species will come and go: Some die out, some survive and evolve. I don’t regard myself as anything terribly special, but in a typical year just mooching around the Eastern Seaboard I am exposed to temperatures from around 98 degrees to 45 below freezing. In the lower part of that range, I evolve into my long underwear.
Maybe if the Antarctic food chain cannot evolve to cope with a 2-degree increase in temperature across many decades it isn’t meant to survive. Science tells us extinction is a fact of life, and nature is never still. Long before the Industrial Revolution, long before the first lardbuttus Americanus got into his primitive 4-miles-per-gallon SUV to head to the mall for the world’s first cheeseburger, there were dramatic fluctuations in climate wiping out a ton of stuff.
Yet scientists and their cheerleaders, the hyper-rationalists of the Western media, have signed on to the idea evolution should cease and the world be frozen — literally, in the case of Professor Peck and his beloved algae — in some unchanging Edenic state.
Well, good luck to him. If I see a guy with a “Save the algae” collecting box, I’m happy to chip in five bucks. But, at the same time as the Royal Institute and the eco-left and all the other progressive thinkers are in a mass panic at the thought of the krill having to adjust its way of life, they’re positively insouciant about massive changes to our own habitat. You’re not entirely cool with same-sex “marriage”? Or the United Nations as a world government in embryo? Tough, shrugs the Guardian. Stuff happens, things change, adapt or die.
Perhaps he’ll give us some hard numbers in his lecture but, as far as I can tell, Professor Peck’s doomsday scenario depends on a lot of “ifs.” Over several decades, the temperature might indeed increase sufficiently, and that might reduce the algae, and that might diminish by several billion the number of krill, and that might affect the lifestyle of the Antarctic penguin by, oh, 2050, 2060. On the other hand, somebody (most likely an American) might invent something Palm Pilot-sized you staple to the seabed that lowers the temperature 2 degrees, and we’ll have wall-to-wall algae. Who can say?
What we do know for certain is the krill’s chances of survival are much greater than, say, the Italians, or the Germans, or the Japanese, Russians, Greeks and Spaniards, all of whom will be in steep population decline long before the Antarctic krill.
In 21 years, 1 in 3 Japanese will be over 65, and that depends on the 2 in 3 who aren’t over 65 staying to pay the taxes to support history’s biggest geriatric population.
Does the impending extinction of the Japanese and Russians not distress anyone? How about the Italians? They gave us the Sistine Chapel, the “Mona Lisa,” Gina Lollobrigida, linguine, tagliatelle, fusilli…. If you’re in your scuba suit down on the ice shelf dining with the krill and you say you would like your algae al dente in a carbonara sauce, they’ll give you a blank look. Billions of years on Earth and all they have is the same menu they started with. But try to rouse the progressive mind to a “Save the Italians” campaign and you’ll get nowhere. Luigi isn’t as important as algae, though he too is a victim of profound environmental changes: Globally warmed by Euro-welfare, he no longer feels the need to breed. And, if he doesn’t care if he survives, why should the penguins and the krill feel any differently?
Given the choice between the krill’s hypothetically impending extinction and their own impending extinction already under way, Europeans would apparently rather fret about the denizens of the deep. Even G.K. Chesterton, who famously observed that once man ceases to believe in God he’ll believe in anything, might have marveled at the swift decay from post-Christian to postevolutionary. As the old song says, “What’s it all about — algae?”
Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.