A Hipbone Approach IV: Polar bears and polar opposites

by Charles Cameron

pic of polar bear tenuously balanced  /></p><p><strong>Norwegian photographer Arne Nævra took second prize in the “Our world” category of the Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2007 competition with this photo</strong></p><p><strong>Bruce Sterling</strong>‘s <a href=State of the World 2010 conversation with my online friend Jon Lebkowsky on the Well’s “Inkwell” forum this year was rich in concept and language as one might expect. This in particular caught my eye:

It’s like looking at your SUV and seeing drowning polar bears. Just a minority viewpoint.

Two concepts, two dots to connect: SUVs and polar bears. Sterling chose those two concepts, no doubt, because the connection between them is non-obvious in the sense that a dictionary definition of SUV won’t contain a reference to polar bears, heck, even an encyclopedia article is unlikely to, and the reverse is also true — and obvious, in the sense that the “minority” in question can easily connect these two otherwise quite distinct and separate dots, the connection being “climate change” aka “global warming” or more specifically an entire complex dynamic systems analysis incorporating the process by which an aggregate of comparatively large and frequently used gasoline-powered internal combustion engines adds incrementally to a trend in the global weather…

Not that any of this should surprise us: Sterling’s readers presumably know that SUVs are a convenient stand-in for “gas guzzlers” and thus for the whole panoply of cars and trucks, and more abstractly for our planetary tendency to technologize our environment into greater convenience and less sustainability — and polar bears, while Sterling may like the look of them in photos, documentaries, zoos or on the occasional visit to the Arctic, serve here as a marker for the entire notion of environmental degradation, a massive die-out of species and such other non-Arctic phenomena as the loss of mountain tops in Appalachia and of rain forests in the Amazon and elsewhere.

So Sterling has played two “concepts” on the board of “connect the dots” and asserted that for some people the connection will be obvious, while for others it will be invisible — which in term of connecting the dots means it might as well not exist.


Indeed, some will argue that while both dots — SUVs and polar bears — exist, the connection implied between them does not.

But that’s not the topic of my consideration here.


Bruce Sterling’s interview gives me the pair of dots I intend to focus on today – SUVs and polar bears – but there’s another pair of dots that Sterling’s remarks forms part of, a pair in which Sterling stands at one pole (science, fiction) of the debate on climate change, with Rep. John Shimkus, R- IL, at the other (scripture, fact).

Addressing the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment’s hearing on Preparing for Climate Change on March 15, 2009, Rep. Shimkus made the following now-celebrated remarks:

The right of free speech is a great right that we have in this country. Very few times we use it to espouse our theological religious beliefs, but we do have members of the clergy here as members of the panel. So I want to start with Genesis 8, verses 21 and 22. “Never again will I curse the ground because of man even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood, and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” I believe that is the infallible word of God, and that is the way it is going to be for his creation.


The second verse comes from Matthew 24. “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” The earth will end only when God declares it is time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood.


And I appreciate having panelists here who are men of faith, and we can get into the theological discourse of that position. But I do believe God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect.

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