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December 28, 2006
What was that on the ground? Something blue in the front border, peeking out amid the browns of dead leaves and the stiff stalks of former lilies.

It was a little grape hyacinth. Two of them, actually, nestled together. Tiny flowers of spring, blooming four months too early. What on earth?

This discovery came on Christmas Day, the same day that the Wall Street Journal and the Bush administration announced the astonishing possibility that global warming might be endangering the polar bears. This represents a shift tectonic in its implications: up until now, even to suggest that there might be such a thing as global warming would have been considered an act of singular disloyalty. It cannot have been an accident that the announcement came on Christmas Day, probably the best day of the year to release something you'd really rather bury -- imagine the Secretary of the Interior tearing himself away from the family Christmas tree to announce this. Couldn't even wait a day.

But some of the polar bears are drowning, it says in the Journal, trying to swim to places where they might catch the seals they eat. There's more water and less ice where they live now, and the distances between ice floes are too far for some of them.

Not that the causes of climate change were up for discussion, said the Secretary of the Interior. That would be beyond the scope of -- well, of something. I'm not sure which department would be a more suitable venue for such an inquiry -- Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, maybe? The Bureau of Engraving and Printing? We shouldn't expect too much: far too much money rides on the fervent belief that global warming has nothing to do with human activity, a conviction that must be getting harder and harder to maintain. But it is amazing what people can believe if there's enough money to be made believing it.

Because if human activity doesn't cause global warming, then we don't need to change anything. Those who profit from our addiction to fossil fuels can keep their eyes on the short-term prize, which is a glittering one indeed, and let the future worry about itself.

I shouldn't carp. I should encourage, instead. Okay: we need the courage to continue in the good direction this announcement-- which really is startling, considering its source -- signals. We need the courage to take actions that will cut into energy profits. We need to insist that our leaders have that courage and that they summon it now.

Because we can get used to spring flowers in the winter, I suppose. But a world without polar bears would be a hard place.
Read more about the polar bears, and about the White House announcement, at
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