Explorers attempted and mostly failed over the centuries to establish a pathway from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the icebound North, a quest often punctuated by starvation and scurvy. Yet within just 40 years, and maybe many fewer, an ascending thermometer will likely mean that the maritime dream of Sir Francis Drake and Captain James Cook will turn into an actual route of commerce that competes with the Panama Canal.
The term "glacial change" has taken on a meaning opposite to its common usage. Yet in reality, Arctic shipping lanes would count as one of the more benign effects of accelerated climate change. The repercussions of melting glaciers, disruptions in the Gulf Stream and record heat waves edge toward the apocalyptic: floods, pestilence, hurricanes, droughts--even itchier cases of poison ivy. Month after month, reports mount of the deleterious effects of rising carbon levels. One recent study chronicled threats to coral and other marine organisms, another a big upswing in major wildfires in the western U.S. that have resulted because of warming.