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With Apologies to 2005: A Christmas Card, with Explanation

Bill Meredith

The gentle journey jars to stop; the drifting dream is done,
And now we’ll walk as men have walked through years not yet begun.
For Christmas is a life-long hope, and hope the stuff of years…
The gentle journey wanders on, through laughter, love and tears. …Walt Kelly

Time speeds up as you grow older; December is here already. By the time this issue of the Dispatch hits the streets the winter solstice will be upon us… the shortest day of the year, and the official beginning of winter. It seems as if The Year of Our Lord MMV just got started, yet already it is dying. Environmentalists will be glad to see it go.

We are fortunate to live in Emmitsburg, a part of the country that usually escapes the worst extremes of nature. The average low temperature drops only to 24 degrees, on January 24, and the average high of 90 is reached on July 20. The actual extremes reached this year were 6 degrees in January and 100 degrees in July; both were bearable, if not comfortable, and each lasted only one day. We had some wet and dry spells, but no severe floods or droughts, and no killer tornadoes. The rest of the country was not so fortunate; drought, forest fires, floods, blizzards and hurricanes filled the national news.

Weather has always been variable on a short-term basis, and cyclic in the longer term. We all learned in grade school about the Pleistocene Epoch, when mile-thick glaciers covered much of the northern hemisphere. Since the last Ice Age ended, some 10,000 years ago, climate has fluctuated; the 13th century was warmer than it is now, and the early 18th century was cold enough to be called the "Little Ice Age." The causes of these natural fluctuations are not universally agreed upon by scientists, but scientific opinion is nearly unanimous that human activities over the past century have caused the natural warming cycle to speed up. I first heard of the "greenhouse effect" when I was in college in the 1950’s; since then, it has been documented so thoroughly that even politicians are aware of it. George W. Bush emphasized the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the 2000 presidential campaign, but as soon as he was elected he took the U. S. out of the Kyoto Protocol, and over the past five years his appointees and congressional allies have taken every opportunity to weaken EPA regulations on industrial emissions of greenhouse gases. The failure of our government to support the treaty now being negotiated at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Montreal is only the latest step in this record.

The reason given by the President for not supporting international efforts at climate control is that it would be expensive enough to be a drain on the national economy. I am unable to decide whether this is hypocrisy or simple ignorance. If it is ignorance, the recent hurricane season should have been an instructive lesson. Hurricanes have always happened, of course, and the laws of probability guaranteed that New Orleans would be hit by one sooner or later; but the number and severity of them this year and the various other weather phenomena that have impacted the nation are not merely the result of random chance. The effect of these storms has already cost us far more than joining the Kyoto Protocol would have; the only difference is that the cost is being borne by the common tax-paying citizens rather than the industrial fat cats. Even without the billions wasted in the FEMA mismanagement fiasco, we will continue to pay for this year in higher insurance rates and energy costs for years to come. And those years to come will continue to exact payment from us in the form of the readily predictable disasters they will bring.

A casual reading of the comments above might suggest to some readers that I am angry about these matters. To avoid any misconceptions, let me state clearly that indeed I am angry; few things upset me more than duplicity and hypocrisy. It is at times like this that I remember Walt Kelly, who also hated these evils and whose wit and wisdom helped many of us through dark times from the McCarthy witch-hunts of the 1950s to the social upheavals of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Kelly’s comic strip character, Pogo, was his alter ego. Pogo was the most humane of possums: honest, gentle, caring, and understanding of human foibles. He was capable of getting angry when faced by injustice, but he never stayed angry and was always ready to forgive. I miss him at times like this.

When I was teaching, I used to put a panel from Kelly’s cartoon on my bulletin board each year as my Christmas card to the students. It showed Pogo and his friend Albert pulling their boat to shore and walking off toward unknown future adventures in the Okeefenokee Swamp, and it was accompanied by a Christmas poem entitled "With Apologies to the Year Gone By." I have mislaid it, so I had to write it out from memory; I may not have the words exactly right, but no matter. The thought is what I want to share. As we leave 2005 and wander on into the rest of our lives, it is certain that there will be tears; let us hope and pray that there will be some laughter and love also. So to all who read this column, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Read other articles by Bill Meredith