Richard Reeves

Here's the Real News

NEW YORK -- Now for the real news. And I don't mean the sayings of Al and George W.

As our intrepid would-be presidents travel the land hoping to be all things to all men and women, two reports, from far away and from the inside, should be world-changing and mind-changing.

1. The North Pole is now underwater. The top of the world is now a mile-wide patch of ocean, apparently for the first time in at least 50 million years.

2. It is not possible to determine "race" by DNA. We may show different colors, but genetic research is showing that there is only one race on our little planet -- the human race.

Early this month, two American scientists -- Dr. James McCarthy of Harvard and Dr. Malcolm McKenna of the American Museum of Natural History -- reached the North Pole on a Russian icebreaker named the Yamal. As they approached, the ice was thinner and thinner, sunlight was shining through, and they could see plankton below -- and plankton is life.

The ice was gone when they reached the pole; seagulls were wheeling in the air over open water. No other human beings had ever seen that sight.

Is global warming real? It sure looks that way. NASA scientists had already concluded that the ice cover in the Arctic has thinned by 45 percent just since the 1950s. The temperature of the surface of Earth increased by 1 degree Fahrenheit during the 20th century. Not much, until you consider the fact that the world today is only 5 to 9 degrees warmer now than it was during the Ice Age. That was 20,000 years ago.

If you go way, way back to a warmer globe -- 50 to 55 million years ago -- fossil and sedimentary evidence indicates that there was tropical vegetation at the North Pole. Maybe there will be again. That sure would raise hell with property values.

The idea of property value, of course, is recent. So are we. Man, the species, is only 100,000 years or so old. There has not been enough time, according to those studying the human genome, for human beings to develop many, or perhaps any, genes that reflect or cause racial differences. Interviews with scientists working on the genome, done by Natalie Angier of The New York Times, confirm that color is literally skin-deep. "The concept of race," she has written, "has little or no biological meaning."

Apparently the number of genes regulating such things as skin and eye color or nose shape are such a small number of the 80,000 or so genes (and their 3 billion sub-units) which make a human that such features can evolve rapidly to adjust to environmental factors -- the sun, for instance. People in the Congo are dark; people in Finland are pale. But that difference, again literally, is superficial.

"Race is a social concept, not a scientific one," says Dr. Craig Venter, the director of the Celera Genomics Corp. "We all evolved in the last 100,000 years from the small number of tribes that migrated out of Africa and colonized the world."

"The criteria that people use for race are based entirely on external features that we are programmed to recognize," says Dr. Douglas Wallace, a molecular geneticist at Emory University. "And the reason we're programmed to recognize them is that it's vitally important to our species that each of us be able to distinguish one individual from the next. Our whole social structure is based on visual clues."

"We are a small population grown large in the blink of an eye," says Dr. Eric Lander of the Whitehead Institute. "We are a little village that's grown all over the world, and we retain the genetic variation seen in that little village."

So that's the news. We are the 7,000th generation. We are all ice cream, but different flavors. Of course, if global warming continues, we are all going to melt away.

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