When Wall Street Is Atlantis

PERSPECTIVE: When Wall Street Is Atlantis

By: KELLY JEAN COGSWELL | For weeks Paris has been in a cold snap, and I go around the apartment with wool socks and 12 sweaters that disguise my shape so much that the other day when I looked in the bathroom mirror after a shower I thought I was seeing some wispy, startled stranger.

We put insulation tape around the front door, wheel the little space heater to warm one room at a time, and are incredibly conscious of how even a little crack in the window sucks the heat right out. Partly because the electric meter is exposed there on the wall, and we see it spin around every time we turn on the heater, or for that matter, use the oven. With the dollar in free fall, every bit of wasted energy counts.

The meter is a reminder, as well, of what we humans are doing to this increasingly watery planet. Environmentalists, until recently, liked to talk about melting polar icecaps. Now, more inhabited coastlines are disappearing so they needn't bother looking so far afield to make their points.

Last week, a French news channel did a whole segment on how Nags Head in North Carolina was being hit with the reality of global warming.

They showed a map of the shrinking coastline, and interviewed a man who had already lost one house to the sea, but then bought another further inland. Now it, too, is on the verge of toppling in. Somebody from the Park Service only gave it a year. “Those sandbags won't help a bit. Come back next fall, you'll never even know it was here.”

The prognosis for Miami and Fort Lauderdale isn't good either. New Orleans, eight feet below sea level, already had a taste, and we're only dreaming that the islands that make up New York City can escape unscathed. San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle will be a little damp, too.

You don't have to agree global warming is 100 percent an effect of human activity to understand we have to do whatever is at hand to slow things down. Or not. Who needs Indonesia anyway? Or Fire Island? We can let queer history float away like we often do. Wall Street will just be a state of mind and stockbrokers will have to telecommute to the Atlantis of their watery offices.

There was a UN conference on climate change a couple of weeks ago in Bali. As usual, the Americans were the stumbling block. And despite the chunky Al Gore's plea for the delegates to take action without the US – the sole developed nation to refuse to sign the Kyoto Treaty – they softened their proposals to get the American representatives on board.

I don't know which is more pitiful, this endless capitulation to American bullying. Or the self-satisfied American inaction accompanied by whines of “Acting's unnecessary, too expensive, and I'm still not convinced by the science.”

I suppose they think the rising seas aren't even a result of global warming. Or the seas aren't rising at all, and the rumor of disappearing beaches in places like Nags Head is a fabrication, a trick, maybe, to increase tourism. See the island before it disappears! Take a video! Stick your finger in the wounds of Christ!

It works apparently. The woman in charge of tourism told French reporters that the disaster had been a marketing bonanza, though it wasn't exactly a long-term strategy.

Guess not. Me, I wouldn't buy New York real estate as investment, at least not too far east, or too far downtown which is going to be oh-so underwater when the sea levels rise another foot or two, though if you had a second floor place, you could put in your own dock.

At least it won't take the loss of the bronze Wall Street bull on the Bowling Green to end American intransigence. As Elizabeth Kolbert reported in the New Yorker, all of the Democrats have plans to lower carbon emissions, and none of the Republican candidates is, for once, in denial about the state of our seas.

The question now is when will the mayors of New York begin to address the problem? I'm glad Bloomberg is making plans about traffic and so on, but wait too long to deal with global warming, we'll end up living in Venice without the pleasures of risotto and those little boats. There are no shoals to protect us from the battering waves that would tip the things over.

As someone who watched the Towers fall, and felt the reverberations of how the geography of New York was altered in a day, I feel an extra obligation to speak out. I know what we lost, and what we stand to lose on a much larger scale. Not in some distant future, but soon, in our lifetimes.

The terrorists that shook us once can only dream of such destruction.