Climatologists tell us that last year was the hottest on record, further evidence that global warming is not some figment of a liberal’s imagination, but a reality we all must live with. A geological history of periodic ice ages, shifting continents, and seas that advance or retreat point to natural changes in the climate over millions of years, but a mounds of evidence sufficient to convince all but the most hardshell skeptics point to rapid change in recent years, due mainly to human activity.
Foremost among those activities are the burning of fossil fuels, which loads the atmosphere with millions of tons of carbon, and rampant deforestation, which robs the earth of trees and other vegetation that remove carbon dioxide and release fresh oxygen into the air.
It turns out that humans have known for thousands of years that careless deforestation is not a good thing. While unprincipled looting of archaeological sites is also a blemish on our record as a race, the relatively lawlessness of Iraq has led to a rash of finds reaching the market, including a large fragment of a tablet containing part of the famed Gilgamesh epic.
The story of Gilgamesh has been pieced together from more than 200 tablet fragments that go back to the third millennium BCE, cover hundreds of years, and exist in different versions. It tells the story of a mythical Babylonian king who claimed to be part god and part man. Gilgamesh’s strength led to cruelty toward his people, and he was rivaled only by the wild man Enkidu, sent by the gods to challenge him. The two tangled in an epic battle before reaching a draw and becoming inseparable companions on a variety of adventures. They went too far when they killed the “bull of heaven,” however, and the gods decreed that Enkidu must die. Mourning over the corpse of his friend, Gilgamesh came to face his own mortality, and much of the remaining epic relates to his search for the key to immortality and his ultimate efforts to come to grips with human limitations.