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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Climate Change's Murder Mysteries

Climate Change's Murder Mysteries

Author: Reilly Capps/Tuesday, April 29, 2014/Categories: climate change, Archive Pick of the Week

[Everest above clouds, Khumbu Valley approach. (c) Hugh Bollinger]

Imagine standing on the edge of a giant mob, watching a 13-year-old girl being stoned to death. Maybe it's by an Islamic mob, maybe a Biblical one, maybe you're in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." But every single member of the crowd raises their arm and makes a throwing motion toward the girl. You strain your neck to see the action, to see who does her in, but you can't quite see how big each rock is, how hard each person is throwing.

Who would you blame? The biggest person? The loudest? The whole society? Ideology? Especially if, because you were expected to, because it was the easy thing to do, and because it wouldn't actually do much harm, you picked up a tiny pebble and flicked it in her direction?

Sixteen Sherpas died in an avalanche on Mount Everest. The Khumbu Ice Fall, always dangerous, slid, loosing blocks of ice the size of houses.

What do you blame for that? 

Many factors led to their deaths. The increased traffic on Everest. Fressure from the companies that employ them to move faster and take more risks. Human error. Bad luck. 

What about climate change? How much do you blame that? 

"The mountain has been deteriorating rapidly in the past three years due to global warming," climber Tim Rippel wrote in a blog post from Everest base camp, as reported by the AP. Others agree with him. Jim Balog reports on the glaciers' accelerating rate of change. Sherpas who have been on Everest most of their lives say that trails that were once covered with solid ice and snow have now melted, and things are more dangerous.

Are the Sherpas part of of the hundreds of thousands of people whose deaths every year are attributable, in part, to climate change? 

Who threw the biggest rocks? The companies? The economy? The Sherpas themselves? Was it a more aggressive mother nature? And if it was a more aggressive mother nature, did we each hand her the rock? Did all of us who ride in cars and fly on airplanes give mother nature a little push? Did we each toss a little pebble? 

Surely, human activity is to blame, at least in some small part. But how big a part? Telling the human stories of climate change is like writing a murder mystery in which the suspected assassins number in the thousands. And in which no airtight conclusion can ever be reached. 
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