As 2009 stumbles to its close, is there anything more menacingly metaphoric than the encroaching approach of the Asian carp on its march to the Great Lakes?
In truth, the environmental news is horrific everywhere you look, from the Arctic Sea melt to the drought in Australia to the growing acidification of the oceans. Climate change is upon us, has us gripped by the collective throat, and yet we are still suffering the skeptics, deniers and myopics.
There is even the controversy of the hacked e-mails from the University of East Anglia in southeast England, the no-longer-secret exchanges between climate scientists that reveal the sort of gallows humor and heartfelt despair you'll find in any workplace.
There were accusations for a time, in fact - before somebody actually read the emails - that the scientists had lied about their findings, fudging the numbers to retain their funding revenue streams.
Thankfully, the Associated Press studied the communications, and concluded that... stop the presses!, scientists are human. But AP's exhaustive investigation determined that the science was not faked to fit their world view.
Too bad, in a way. Wouldn't it be nice to wake up, rub the eyes and figure out global warming was just a bad dream, concocted by clever, diabolical jesters.
Enter stage right, the nightmare of the Asian carp. These invasive beasts, voracious and massive, have been exploiting the canal system linking the Mississippi River system and the Great Lakes; swimming, inexorably, toward their promised, predator-less land.
David M. Lodge, a Notre Dame biologist and the director of its center for aquatic conservation told the New York Times: "The bottom line is that this canal is a conduit - a highway to environmental havoc - from one of these important watersheds to the other."
Cue theme for Jaws as the carp get closer and closer to Lake Michigan.
How did they get here? Irony upon irony: in 1963 the Fish and Wildlife Service in Arkansas introduced Asian carp as a "natural" means to controling aquatic weeds. Fish farms needed their ponds cleaned: Asian carp were the Hoovers they needed. The good news: Asian carp replaced the need for harmful chemicals.
The bad news?
You're looking at it.
Asian carp weigh up to 100 pounds and pretty much never stop eating. They consume plankton and algae - food normally reserved for other species. Those other species can't compete with the oncoming giants. Adding to their horror film resume, the silver carp version of the species jump, capable of cold-cocking fishermen and other aquatic tourists.
And once they end up in the Great Lakes system, where a fifth of the earth's fresh surface water resides, no one knows how to stop them. They'll imperil the lakes' $7 billion fishing and recreation industry.
It's a lot like global warming, already spinning out of control, while world leaders, with their self-protective mentalities, haggle in Copenhagen.
Make SOME change, sure, but don't mess with the fossil fuel old farts who really run this planet.
And whose wares we use by the millions of barrels every day.
Which evokes the other facet of the Asian carp metaphor. They are traveling the highways and biways of the aforementioned canal system. To keep them out of the Great Lakes, the only clear way forward is to UNBUILD the canal system, sever the link between the Mississipi River system and the Great Lakes.
But to unbuild the canal system is to thwart the livelihoods of the people who use them.
What price will we pay to save the habitat?
Meanwhile, a recent poll revealed that less people in America now believe in global warming than did just a few years ago.
2009. The year we chose to stay in the dark by leaving on the lights to blind us from the reality.
Perhaps the Asian carp, too terrifying to turn away from, will be the wake up call we need.
Read Jim Poyser's upcoming Year in Review story about the environment, Dec. 30.