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Last chance to see 

I was struck by Dave Pollard’s list of the most beautiful places on Earth, based on a PBS documentary. One of the places is Kakadu National Park in North Australia.

Unfortunately, Kakadu may not be with us much longer. In Australia the week before last, I heard Tim Flannery give a talk on the likely impact of global warming on Australia. An increase of 1-2 degrees Centigrade in the surface temperature of the Earth — at the very low end of estimates — would result in a loss of 50% of the Kakadu wetlands. An increase of up to 3 degrees would result in complete loss of Kakadu (as well as complete loss of tropical reefs, widespread extinctions and a loss of half of Australia’s wet tropics area).

Many Australians are acutely aware that their country stands to be the single most affected of the advanced economies by global warming. Flannery had an eloquent summation of the problem: “The metabolism of the global economy in on a collision course with the metabolism of the planet Earth.”

Passionate intensity 

I didn’t pick up Battle Cry of Freedom, James McPherson’s classic history of the civil war era, for any contemporary relevance. It was just one of those books I’ve long thought I should read.

But having recently finished the chapters on the 1860 election and the secessions that followed, there are eerie echoes of today’s political climate in the US.

No, I don’t think the US is heading for civil war. But the passions that wrought the fatal divisions in the mid-nineteenth century seem familiar. Particularly on the right today, there seems a conviction and belief that broaches no arguments (see last week’s convention passim).

In 1860, much of the south had convinced themselves that they could not live under a Lincoln presidency. Recall the anti-Clinton venom of the ’90s and hear the bile about Kerry today. There is a worryingly large constituency that is unable to accept a democratic choice that isn’t their choice.

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Let’s hope the best find their convictions in time.

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