The Whale and the Supercomputer
I love winter. It’s when I fly
through the birch forest like a hawk. If the snow is good at
Kincaid Park, the cross-country ski trails swoop among old trees and
steep, round hills, unwrapping silent white glades and black thickets
with hoarfrost in quick, smoothly evolving succession. The air feels
cool on my
perspiring face and steam rises from my chest. Topping a tall hill, I
gray-blue ice gliding swiftly to sea in the currents of
some recent winters were stillborn in this part of
tells us no single winter can be blamed on global climate change.
naturally varies from year to year, while climate represents a broad
time and space beyond our immediate perception. But now science, too,
notice. Average winter temperatures in Interior Alaska had risen 7
since the 1950s. Annual precipitation increased by 30 percent from 1968
The Iñupiaq elders of the
The climate here was changing; that was beyond debate. Burning fossil fuels had greatly elevated the carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere. The physics of carbon dioxide trapping the sun’s heat on earth, and the rough magnitude of that effect on the planet’s heat balance, had been firmly established more than thirty years earlier. We had crime scene, victim, suspect, motive, opportunity, and smoking gun. There was plenty of evidence to convict. We lacked scientific proof to say how much climate change was manmade and how much was natural, or to predict exactly what would happen next. The earth is complex; perhaps predicting the future isn’t possible. Still, argument raged on over these marginal uncertainties in the face of this enormous, palpable reality.
Let others parry and thrust with the skeptics’ abstractions. Here, instead, is climate change in the flesh, the story of individual people at their particular time and place, and what they saw with their eyes and felt in their bones. Here is climate change being lived, the adventure of surviving and thriving as human organisms who must adapt to a new natural world. The Iñupiat have a creation myth about when the earth was upside down; they’ve been through this before. Christians have their own creation myth; all people have spiritual ideas about land and wilderness. As the world turns upside down again, our species is embarking on an epic physical, moral and cultural journey. If we’re honest, we’ll be forced to readjust our fundamental beliefs about how we relate to nature as a species in an ecological niche. The Iñupiat are at the lead, and they seem to be excellent guides.
Over the span of a warm and dreary